MACHIAS, Maine — The theft rate in Machias has gone through the roof this year, police Chief Grady Dwelley said Thursday, attributing the increase in crimes to a bad economy.
Although a majority of thefts in the past have been drug-driven, Dwelley said that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
“In some cases, that is not a clear line,” the police chief said. “It basically comes down to the economy.”
Last year at this time, 19 thefts had been reported in Machias. As of this week, 33 already have been recorded.
The value of the thefts has also skyrocketed, Dwelley said. The value of items stolen in 2010 was $6,486. The value of items take in the first half of 2011 is $23,418.
Although Dwelley said some thefts — a $2,500 brass boat propeller, for example — are simple acts of taking another’s property, the majority of thefts he is seeing today are more complex, so-called white collar thefts.
“What we are seeing are cases of theft by deception and the use of credit cards that involve an awful lot of money,” he said. “People are using other persons credit cards at an alarming rate. And what is really frustrating is that these type of thefts are completely out of our control. You can’t sit alongside the road with a radar gun and catch these guys.’’
Looking through this year’s statistics, Dwelley said assaults are also up by 20 percent, and what he terms lifestyle crimes — vandalism, fraud, sexual offenses, forgery — remain at the same level or below last year.
“Our number of calls for service has not increased, but what we are getting called to is much more serious and involved,” he said. That becomes difficult for a three-person department, he said, particularly since his current crew is youthful and mostly inexperienced.
“We are definitely short-handed,” he said. “It becomes a tricky balance between budget and coverage. The more complex investigations invariably fall to me while I still have to work the street as part of patrol.”
On Wednesday, Dwelley informed the Machias selectmen that two of his officers are scheduled to attend the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in August. He is hoping to get a hardship extension for one officer until next February but he is not hopeful that will be granted.
Grady has seven reserve officers available but the budget for them will run out long before the trainees return from the academy. He suggested hiring another officer on either a full-time or temporary full-time basis.
If a full-time officer were hired, Dwelley said no reserve funds would be expended unless they came from the department’s overtime account. “We are on track to double our crime rate and right now I have 42 cases on my desk,” Dwelley told the board.
“We won’t be able to go short-handed too long” before the criminal element will realize that police coverage is compromised and take advantage, he said Thursday. “They’ll walk away with the farm.”
The board is expected to vote on the requested position at its July 27 meeting.