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It’s too early to tell if the shutdown of many public establishments and the end of large gatherings will lower Maine’s crime rate in the long run. But in the short term, criminal activity appears to be down in some parts of the state less than a week after Gov. Janet Mills put in place restrictions on public gatherings and restaurant and bar operations to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Maine has one of lowest crime rates in the nation, but police in much of the state say they’re starting to see a drop in calls for service with fewer people out and about.
Calls to the Maine State Police’s three communication centers have slowed, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
“[It’s] similar to a snow day,” he said.
In Bangor, police are responding to slightly fewer calls but are maintaining regular patrols, said Lt. Tim Cotton. He attributed that to people having less public contact with each other, especially now that bars and restaurants in the city are closed for all but curbside takeout service.
“We are seeing fewer arguments between individuals who are not seeing eye to eye,” Cotton said. “Much of what we deal with in Bangor are folks who are leaving late-night venues who are — at times — under the influence of some type of intoxicant. This can lead to physical confrontations, and we are responsive to these events.”
When officers do intervene, they are issuing more court summonses, telling people to appear in court at a future date rather than arresting them and taking them into custody. And they are allowing non-violent arrestees to post bail at the police station rather than be admitted to the Penobscot County Jail.
Last week, sheriffs, who run the county jails, encouraged police departments to write more summonses instead of arresting people for minor offenses or non-violent crimes.
In the state capital, calls have fallen during the past week because of reduced state government operations and the closure of non-essential businesses, according to the Augusta police chief.
“With all of these entities closed or significantly reduced, we do not have near the population [in the city] that we normally have,” Jared Mills said Monday. “I do not know if reports of crimes have dropped off but certainly reports to assist citizens have reduced simply because we have less citizens in the city.”
Police in Lewiston have also seen the number of calls for service fall, said Chief Brian O’Malley.
In Maine’s largest city, Portland residents appear to be behaving themselves, according to Lt. Robert Martin, police department spokesman. “We are seeing an outstanding response to the closures and have not had to address any issues regarding that,” he said. “We are not seeing any increases in domestic violence crimes or operating under the influence of intoxicant incidents.”
Up in The County, the number of calls for service hasn’t changed, but law enforcement is issuing more summonses to reduce the number of people in the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton, according to Sheriff Shawn Gillen.
“There are a few more summonses being issued but we are all still arresting when necessary,” he said. “We are still seeing the normal calls for service and there is no more or less of anything really.”
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