LINCOLN, Maine – Police Chief William Lawrence hopes to hire an investigative-overlay officer to help offset a sagging case clearance rate and will fund the new position with a $193,533 federal grant, Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said Sunday.
The three-year U.S. Department of Justice grant, Goodwin said, will pay for a position the Town Council included in the 2011-12 budget and will go to what in other circumstances might be called a detective position, except this officer likely will wear a patrol uniform and supplement regular police patrols.
“It is going to relieve the caseload of our regular officers and will allow police to do more investigative work,” Goodwin said Sunday. “We should have higher clearance rates and a safer community.”
The department’s case-clearance rate — the number of cases disposed of typically through arrests and convictions — from April 2010 to April 2011 was about 20 percent, Lawrence has said. The national average is 30 percent.
The fundamental problem, Lawrence has said, is the town’s failure to retain the officers it hires and lack of uniformed or plainclothes detectives, which leaves Lincoln with a police force that spends most of its time going from call to call.
Lawrence created and councilors approved the overlay officer’s position in response to that, Goodwin said.
When Lawrence was hired in mid-March, the department’s entire six-member roster had turned over at least twice since 2008, and Lawrence was the sixth interim or full-time chief to take the position since 2004. He succeeded full-time former Chiefs Scott Minckler, William Flagg and Hank Dusenbery and interim Chiefs Phil Dawson and James “Jamie” Slauenwhite.
The recent case clearance rate was not available on Sunday, but Lincoln police have made some notable arrests recently:
• The seizure of $5,000 to $10,000 worth of the synthetic drug “bath salts” and two marijuana plants on Sept. 11 during the arrest of two suspects. Both posted $700 bail and are due in Lincoln District Court on Nov. 22
• The arrest of two burglary suspects at Clay GMC Chevrolet, 470 Main St., on July 3. State police and Piscataquis and Penobscot County sheriffs are investigating whether the two are connected to several other burglaries in the Ellsworth area.
• The return of a $13,000 engine diagnostic tool to a Guilford auto repair shop on Aug. 25 after officers found it on a burglary suspect. That suspect’s case is pending.
• The seizure of 200 small packets of heroin packaged for street sale, 121 oxycodone pills, cocaine, crack cocaine, 11 hypodermic needles and $590 in cash — items worth about $7,000 in total — when officers arrested a Connecticut man on drug-trafficking charges on Oct. 4 after he called to complain of people trying to break into his house.
Lawrence also met with local businesses and residents last month to discuss a crime issue, bath salts and other narcotics, the first time a chief has done that in Lincoln in more than a year. And officers held a free bicycle safety course at Veterans Square off Main Street on Sept. 10 a week after a 7-year-old boy was accidentally hit by a car on Katahdin Avenue. About 25 town youths attended the bike rodeo.
Since Lawrence’s arrival, he has hired and promoted several officers on the staff, bring the department to six full-time officers for the first time in years, Goodwin said. The new position will be the department’s seventh.
“The department is doing fabulous,” Goodwin said. “The officers are doing great work and he [Lawrence] stays within his budget. I am very pleased with his performance. He is a very good manager.”
As part of the grant requirements, Lincoln will have to retain the new officer for at least a year beyond the three-year term, Goodwin said.
Lawrence is interviewing candidates now and hopes to have the new position filled in a month, Goodwin said. The council will formally accept the grant money next month.
Lawrence and council Chairman Rod Carr could not be reached for comment on Sunday.