Low case-clearance rate has Lincoln adding to police force

Posted June 06, 2011, at 6:45 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — The Police Department will reinstate a uniformed detective’s position by October in response to a recommendation from Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy, a deluge of child sex offender referrals and statistics that showed that town police lag behind the national average of cases solved, Police Chief William Lawrence said Monday.

The new position, and the promotion late last month of acting Sgt. Glenn Graef to the permanent position as the department’s No. 2 ranking officer, were based on statistical review, Almy’s opinion, and the department’s lack of expertise in handling sex assault cases, Lawrence said.

Almy “said that we needed an investigator,”  Lawrence said.

Almy based his recommendation on the six-member department’s lack of a detective, the fact that six child sexual abuse referrals were made to the department in the last several weeks, and the department’s lack of follow-up in dealing with registered sex offenders who live in town, Lawrence said.

Eleven registered sex offenders were listed on Maine’s Sex Offender Registry at Lincoln’s ZIP code, 04457, as of Monday, a search revealed.

The department’s case-clearance rate — the number of cases disposed of typically through arrests and convictions — from April 2010 to April 2011 was also about 20 percent, Lawrence said. The national average is 30 percent.

The fundamental problem, Lawrence said, is that the town’s failure to retain the officers it hires and lack of uniformed or plainclothes detectives has left Lincoln with a police force that spends most of its time going from call to call. The department is down one position, even with Lawrence’s hiring in March and Graef’s promotion late last month.

“We have a very young police force,” Lawrence said, estimating that on average, the six officers have two years of full-time work experience. “It’s extremely hard for them to follow up on cases when they are continually answering new calls. Sometimes these investigations take you out of town and obviously you can’t leave town to investigate” when your assignment demands constant town coverage.

“In some cases, you also need an expertise” that the department has lacked, he said.

The next closest municipality of similar size to Lincoln is Millinocket. That town has nine officers and two detectives, though Millinocket leaders say they will be forced to cut one position because of budget constraints when the new municipal budget year begins July 1.

Lincoln’s six-member roster has turned over entirely at least once every two years since 2004. Town leaders have blamed the turnover on uncompetitive salaries and the lure of working in towns with more activity. Some of the police who have left have said the town has a history of treating its officers poorly, but they have declined to cite specific examples.

The department supplements its full-timers with 11 part-time state-certified police who work a total of about 50 hours a month.

Under a new schedule Lawrence instituted on May 1, officers rotate shifts monthly, with Graef working the night shift, Lawrence said. Under the old system, an officer would rotate day, evening and overnight shifts weekly. Having them work monthly, which Graef suggested, is healthier for the officers and will improve their efficiency.

Lawrence said he hopes to hire a new officer to bring the roster to full strength shortly, but even that won’t bring police to full strength until October, when Officer John Walsh fulfills a military duty commitment and attends the state’s police academy, Lawrence said.

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