A rise in criminal activity this year has prompted Wiscasset police Lt. John Allen to request one more full-time officer in November and another next June through a grant.
“I wouldn’t come and ask for it if I didn’t need it,” he told selectmen Tuesday night at their regular meeting.
Currently, Allen and two others officer make up the full-time force which Allen says has become overloaded with law enforcement activity this past year, especially lately. “We had six burglaries in one night,” he said.
It is getting to be too much to handle for him and Officer Willy Simmons and Kathy Williams.
Allen said the Sheriff’s Dept. “refused” to help the local department with the chain of burglaries, leaving several local businesses without police protection during the incidents, since the department no longer provides 24/7 service as in the past. Reserve officers have not made up the difference.
The total number of calls from January through July has increased from 2013 in 2002 to 2379 in 2009, Allen reported to selectmen in his bid to increase the force. He estimated needing $25,000 for the first six months to add one officer, until a budget request for a full year at next year’s June town meeting.
Arrests and offenses, including illegal drug traffic, and has been on the rise with 132 offenses reported this year as opposed to 102 in 2007 and 115 arrests, compared to 93 in 2007 and 80 in 2008. Accidents reported rose from 69 in 2008 to 86 in 2009, he said.
Allen said a fifth officer could be added through funding from a Cop Fast grant the department could apply for to cover the position. He understands the grant has to precede the hiring of an officer and so might not be applicable for the first officer, which would start in December.
Domestic violence has been continuing to rise with 25 domestic disturbance calls this year compared to 17 last year, and drug investigation rose from nine cases in 2007 and six cases in 2008 to 20 this year. Suicide cases went from one in 2007 to five in 2009. Violation of protection orders increased from three in 2007 to 10 in 2009.
Other types of criminal activity has also been on the rise with 95 burglary alarm calls, 38 calls concerning harassment, 56 cases of juvenile problems, 68 theft cases and 56 warrant for arrest issues. Besides that, sex offenses have increased noticeably from 20 in 2007, to 59 in 2008 and 74 this year.
Some of the reserve officers have expressed an interest in applying for a full-time position if it becomes available, thus eliminating the cost of uniforms and other expenses if hired.
Select board chairman Bob Blagden said the additional $25,000 could be taken from reserves or somewhere in the local budget for 2009-10, eliminating the need for additional tax dollars until next June. Blagden said he had no qualms about putting the question on the ballot in November to let the people decide the issue.
The firearms issues has been tossed about at board meetings lately, and this week Game Warden Sgt. Mark Warren, regional supervisor for the state Dept. of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, was present to answer questions about the state role if a town ordinance is in place.
Warren said the local jurisdiction would handle enforcement of such an ordinance and the state would not be enforcing a local ordinance.
The arguments against it include that from resident Larry Barnes, who questioned the state law’s sufficiency to cover any possible dangers to the populace in the use of firearms.
However, Allen believes the local ordinance would be more restrictive and protect citizens from the eventuality of injury and possible death from firearms use in the restricted zone around the village downtown and waterfront areas.
The board took no action on the request but took it under advisement for future discussion.
The second ordinance under consideration several months ago but passed over, concerns an ordinance requiring sex offenders to inform landlords of their status. It came to the attention of Allen when resident Clark Jones said he found his renter happened to be a sex offender.
Under the state law regarding sex offenders, sex offenders must report to police within 48 hours of moving to a community, according to Allen. Allen said he gives them a packet with the law and would add a copy of the town ordinance if enacted.
Rines said the position of Lieutenant does not have the same level of authority, and the town needs that.