The convoy of Maine law enforcement officers stretched for four miles as more than 200 men and women in uniform left the state Thursday heading south for the funeral of a police chief shot and killed during a drug raid in his small New Hampshire town.
The death of Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney, a 26-year veteran, just a few miles from Maine — and the fact that the number of law enforcement personnel gunned down on the job in the United States has increased steadily over the last few years — has officials in Maine worried.
“It hit very close to home for us, on a number of levels,” Darrell Crandall, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s division commander for northern Maine, said Thursday. “The operation was being carried out by the New Hampshire drug task force. Many of us have worked closely with the agents involved.”
Seven law enforcement officers were killed in New England between 2001 and 2010, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, and the country saw an average of nearly 60,000 law enforcement officers assaulted annually in the same time period.
In New England, 1,814 assaults on law enforcement officers were reported in 2010. The rate per 100 is the highest in the country at 3.3, according to the FBI data.
Drug use is to blame for a good portion of the increase in violence, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Friday.
“There is a penchant with increased violence that seems to coincide with increased drug use,” he said. “Drugs are an obvious cause of a great deal of the increased crimes in the last year in the state of Maine.”
The growing number of pharmacy robberies in Maine is a prime example, McCausland said. Of the crimes committed in Maine, 90 percent or more have a drug element, he said, meaning that officers always have to be on guard.
“That certainly also plays out with everyday traffic stops and everything a police officer has to do,” McCausland said. “They don’t know if that person is under the influence of drugs or another substance.”
A total of 49 officers were killed by gunfire in the U.S. in 2009, according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice report and the Officer Down Memorial Page website. The number increased to 59 in 2010 and 67 in 2011.
“That’s not minor,” Crandall said. “That’s huge and it’s just getting worse.”
Col. Robert Williams was one of 25 wearing a Maine State Police uniform at Maloney’s remembrance service Thursday. The other 175 men and women in uniform from Maine came from local and county departments, the warden service and corrections.
Drugs are definitely one cause for the increase in violence against police, but video games, lack of discipline and lack of respect for the law are contributing factors, too, said Williams, chief of the Maine State Police.
“They have no respect for authority and, more importantly, they have no respect for life,” he said. “We see that more and more.”
“They are used to playing video games and when you die you hit the reset button,” Williams said. “In their mind it’s exciting to them and it’s not real, [but] when you stab someone or shoot someone in real life, the game is over.”
Many of today’s youth never hear the word “no” and have not learned to take responsibility for their actions, he said.
“People today haven’t learned how to handle rejection, how to handle disappointment because someone has always swooped in and bailed them out,” he added. “In today’s generation everybody gets a trophy. They don’t keep score because somebody might lose.”
That has led to a lack of what Williams described as “coping skills.”
Sending his drug agents out to gather information or conduct drug raids — like the one that led to Maloney’s death — always makes him nervous, Crandall said.
“We’re seeing more and more violence. It’s a big concern,” he said.
When the MDEA raided a Hudson home last month and found $190,000 in bath salts, many people overlooked the numerous assault-style rifles and body armor confiscated at the same time, but not Crandall. He said he sees them as a sign of the ever-increasing danger.
As threats to police officers increase, so does the danger to the public, Crandall said.
“If we are finding the situation increasingly dangerous to our officers, we are finding the situation increasingly dangerous for neighbors, to members of the community, to people driving by,” he said.
To protect the safety of MDEA agents and the communities they work in, the MDEA tries to control the timing of drug raids but, Crandall admitted, “there are times we lose control of the timing by no fault of our own.”
Maloney, 48, was leading a New Hampshire attorney general’s drug task force that was trying to serve a search warrant on April 12 when the suspect opened fire. The police chief was killed and four other task force officers were shot and injured. His injured brothers-in-arms had recovered enough to attend his funeral, held at the high school he attended three decades before.
Ambushes accounted for about 80 percent of law enforcement officer fatalities in the first eight months of 2011, and “20 percent of the fatalities involved the serving of warrants,” said a U.S. Department of Justice report issued in September 2011.
“Over the last three calendar years, MDEA has executed 588 search warrants and has arrested 2,656 suspects,” Crandall said.
Maloney wasn’t the only law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty on April 12. In Modesto, Calif., Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Robert Paris was shot and killed while he and another deputy were serving an eviction notice at an apartment complex, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page website.
In Maine, 86 officers have died in the line of duty since the early 1800s, and 26 of those were caused by gunfire, the website states. The most recent was a state police detective shot and killed while responding to a domestic dispute in March 1989.
Of the 541 officers who have died in the last decade across the U.S., none have been from Maine.
The increase in violent crimes against police has not gone unnoticed by the federal government, which is studying pre- and post-crime reports to see if there are techniques that can be used to defuse a situation before it becomes deadly, said Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
One telling fact, he said, is that “80 percent of offenders who assault police have previous weapons offenses. … They think they have an advantage over the police.”