PATTEN, Maine — For the second time in a few months, Patten residents brought reports of burglaries and overdoses to the regional Maine State Police commander.
On Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Brian Harris told the 40 residents attending an afternoon safety session at the Veteran’s Memorial Library in Patten that there is no easy solution in an area handled by four or fewer troopers amid staffing shortages.
Harris explained that with recent staff promotions, until two new hires are fully trained next October, there might be times when only one trooper is covering the area.
“I ran our numbers and our average response time is 45 minutes,” Harris said. “If a trooper is on a call in Oakfield, Stacyville or on the interstate, they can’t get to you.”
The conversation with state police began last fall when residents and town leaders shared concerns in a special public meeting about a lack of police presence in the town. And since that time, residents’ worries have increased, Gail Albert, town manager said.
It’s a combination of things, including an uptick in incidents and an increase in the number of so-called drug houses, that worries residents, Albert said.
On Wednesday, several residents shared stories about middle-of-the-night home break-ins, transient trespassing, drugs and drug overdoses in the town playground and long wait times for police. Others wondered why transients and drug users were not arrested or why they were arrested and released.
Without having specific information on cases, Harris said it is difficult to say what happened or why police made certain decisions.
“Every law has a lot of gray areas, and each situation is different,” he said.
Additionally, Harris pointed out that even drug arrests do not always happen quickly like on TV shows or in the movies. It takes time to build a strong case, he said.
“We look for patterns. We need to make a good case so that will lead to successful prosecution,” he said.
He also pointed out that residents can help by giving police detailed information about what they see. Taking photos of cars helps, he said, and repeated calls about the same house heightens police attention.
Given the lack of troopers, Librarian Julie Buhler asked Harris how the library could help residents. Harris suggested trying to get grant funding for surveillance cameras for residents unable to afford one.
In St. Francis, the town put money aside to help pay for witness transportation to testify at hearings, he said.
Additionally, Harris reminded residents to lock their homes and cars to make it more difficult for criminals.
“We all grew up in an era where people left their doors unlocked,” he said. “Those days are behind us. They are looking for easy targets.”
Harris told residents that he would be happy to point out unsecure places in their homes, like unlocked windows, tall bushes, and poor lighting.