June 24, 2019
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Crime on the rise in Lubec after town loses police coverage, resident says

Kate Collins | BDN
Kate Collins | BDN
Members of the Washington County Sheriff's Department in 2008.

LUBEC, Maine — In the 10 weeks this Washington County coastal community has gone without daily police patrols, there’s been something of a low-key crime spree.

“Since June, all except one commercial business on Water Street has been burglarized,” Lubec resident Mike Pivirotto said in a recent email to the Bangor Daily News. “Compare the FBI crime rate of Bar Harbor to Lubec. Violent crime: Lubec 3, Bar Harbor 2. Property crime: Lubec 3, Bar Harbor 1.”

The situation has deteriorated to the point where he claims that a pot of lobsters recently was stolen from the enclosed back porch of a Lubec residence while a woman who lives there was home.

With a population of 1,300, Lubec has no police department. For the past eight years, day-to-day law enforcement needs have been met under a contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. That $181,358 annual contract provided Lubec with an 86-hours-a-week, two-officer patrol system at a cost of $497 a day.

The town opted not to approve a new $199,000 annual contract proposed by Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith. Without the contract coverage, response to crime in Lubec is provided on an as-needed, emergency basis by the Maine State Police and by the Sheriff’s Department.

When working under contract, Washington County deputies made routine patrols, checked on the security of homes and businesses, and responded to residents’ concerns. Lubec was the only Washington County community that covered its police services with contracted sheriff’s deputies. Jonesport once did, but recently opted out and now also has no local law enforcement.

Smith said his department’s roster is two deputies short and that recruiting for the high-risk, low-pay job has been difficult. Had the Lubec contract been renewed, Smith said, he would have stepped up recruiting efforts to ensure Lubec’s day-to-day coverage would continue.

“In May, when I was down two officers for Lubec, I met with the board and gave them that [$199,000] option,” Smith said. “Two days later I received a letter stating they opted out. So I did not cancel the contract, they did.”

Smith acknowledges there has been a rash of break-ins in Lubec this summer and says they are under investigation.

“I am not sure that every business has been broken into,” he said. “There have been some breaks that the state police are investigating and some we are. However, those breaks took place in the early morning hours, and, even if they [were under] contract, they would not have had coverage for them.”

Pivirotto said Wednesday that many crimes in Lubec are never reported, including the back porch theft of the lobsters and thefts of boats and kayaks. His property has been vandalized numerous times over the past three years, he said, with those responsible breaking out the windows of his barn and “terrorizing” the sheep and geese being raised there.

Pivirotto is a proponent of Lubec creating its own two-person police force, using the funds once allocated to the contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department to hire and equip the two officers. He wants to set a goal of lowering Lubec’s crime rate to at least that of Bar Harbor.

“We need a goal, and we need to work together with the police department we would create,” he said Wednesday. “And we need professionals. Let’s look across the country and find a police chief and let’s hire an assistant chief. Two guys would be able to cover the 86 hours we were getting under the contract.”

Pivirotto said the town could stipulate in the hiring contract that the term be one year or two years and nonrenewable unless the crime rate goal is achieved.

“When we borrow sheriffs from the county, you get officers that are not living here and don’t work here every day. I want officers living here in Lubec as part of the community.”

A special town meeting is scheduled in Lubec for Tuesday, Sept. 18, to consider approval of financing for a proposed $967,000 public works building and an adjacent salt/sand shed. Town Administrator John Sutherland said Wednesday that, after an extended bid review process, the job would be awarded to Bowman Constructors of Newport, with site work beginning within 10 days and occupancy within six months.

Pivirotto says he’ll raise his concerns about local crime at the Sept. 18 meeting.

“The cool thing about Lubec is that it is a small town, and I know I can speak at the town meeting freely, so I will,” he said. “My main point I want to make is that we the town of Lubec need to have a goal for lowering the crime rate. My target to suggest is that we lower our crime rate to less than that of Bar Harbor.”

Smith, who lives in Lubec, said he’s reviewed the FBI crime statistics and thinks a Lubec-to-Bar Harbor comparison is apples-to-oranges.

“Bar Harbor has a fairly large, 24-hour coverage police department,” Smith said.

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