Staff Writer

Two candidates for sheriff in Franklin County say the recent rise in violent crimes in their rural communities has residents afraid and frustrated and has prompted them to run for the office.

Scott Nichols Sr., police chief in Carrabassett Valley, and Thomas White, a longtime deputy sheriff, are seeking the Republican nomination for sheriff. The primary is June 12.

Incumbent Sheriff Dennis Pike, who is in his third term in the position, Monday wouldn’t comment on whether he will run for re-election.

Nichols and White plan to discuss their concerns at a public forum tonight, “Has Big City Crime Come to Small Town Franklin County?” The forum is at 7 p.m. on the campus of University of Maine at Farmington, in the Lincoln Auditorium at the Roberts Learning Center.

White: County can’t policeits way out of drug problem

White, a deputy sheriff for 25 years, is a detective in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and investigates cases involving narcotics, robberies and other crimes against residents and property.

White, 60, singled out the slaying of Grace Burton, an 81-year-old woman fatally stabbed inside her Farmington apartment in June, and armed robbery and kidnapping of an elderly couple inside their Farmington home Halloween night as the most worrisome examples.

“In the past year, we’ve experienced really some horrible crimes,” White said.

There has also been a trend recently toward more violent acts in which county residents are targeted by strangers, which was extremely rare in the past, he said.

Crime rates in Franklin County show a steady increase in more random and violent acts in the past 20 years, as well as other crime. The rates are recorded annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, White said.

“We know our crime rate is going up,” he said.

White believes the most recent spike in criminal activity, which jumped about 4 percent from 2009 to 2010, is because of a lack of jobs and the rise in prescription drug abuse.

People who can’t find work may resort to crime, and those who have drug addiction problems have historically been problems for law enforcement nationwide, he said.

“Crime is a product of society and it’s a grave problem,” White said.

White said as sheriff he would try to work with the courts, legislators and other law enforcement agencies to address the drug problems plaguing Maine. He believes more emphasis has to be placed on drug prevention education programs for young people, as well as rehabilitation programs for drug addicts.

“You’re not going to police your way out of this,” he said of the drug abuse problems.

White would also implement a selective enforcement team at the sheriff’s department, dedicating deputies as plainclothes officers who target drug crimes, an effort he made previously that was discontinued by administrators, he said.

His plan is to work with the available staffing by taking certain deputies away from traffic duty and focusing them on investigating crimes. “I want to bring the sheriff’s office in that direction to shift toward more criminal enforcement,” he said.

“We need to try some new law enforcement methods, and the times have changed and we need to keep up,” White said.

White lives in Jay with his wife, Lisa. They have four sons and one granddaughter.

Nichols: ‘Intelligence is the biggest thing’

Nichols, a law enforcement officer for 27 years, is chief of police in Carrabassett Valley. Before he took that job in 2008, he spent more than 20 years with the Maine State Police, patrolling Franklin County and reached the rank of sergeant in the criminal investigation division.

Nichols has a different take on the recent spike in crimes hitting local communities, calling it part of a national problem.

“Some of these crimes are crimes of opportunity and some are just bad people, and you can’t predict what people are going to do all the time,” he said. “Some do it for the thrill of it and some for drug dependency issues and some are just horrible people.”

The crimes that stem from drug abuse are especially tough for law enforcement officials to prevent, because they can’t stop people who choose to take illegal drugs, Nichols said.

“I think that battle has been going on for decades now, and I don’t think we are any further ahead than we were 30 years ago,” he said.

Nichols said as sheriff, his goal would still be to focus on preventing crime as opposed to reacting to it. He plans to accomplish this by bringing in new technologies that have worked at his department and other agencies.

He relies on a computer program that tracks crime data in the community, with features that ensure more patrols are focused on streets and neighborhoods that have the most problems.

Another new program he wants to use at the county level is known as the text-a-tip program, which several other law enforcement agencies use. Residents can anonymously send a text message with cellphones, which encourages people who may be afraid to share information with police, he said.

Nichols would not discuss details of recent crimes because he didn’t know specifics about cases. He said it’s tough for him to pinpoint what is causing the increase in crime rates, but said it’s a mixture of economic and behavioral issues.

Nichols plans to reach out to residents and municipal officials to promote more partnerships between the sheriff’s office and the communities it protects.

He also wants administrative positions in the department, including the sheriff, to begin filling more patrol shifts, a change that would help them learn about the issues facing deputies and residents, Nichols said.

“Intelligence is the biggest thing, being out there and making sure the deputies are where they’re supposed to be,” he said.

Nichols lives in New Sharon with his wife, Lorna. They have a son and daughter.

Forum tonight

There is a March 15 deadline to file paperwork to compete in the June 12 nomination primary.

The election is Nov. 6.

Incumbent Sheriff Pike said Monday he has served 11 years as a non-party independent. He must file nomination papers by June 1 to run for re-election.

Pike, 73, was a Farmington police officer for 22 years and a Franklin County law enforcement official for more than 50 years. He lives in Farmington with his wife, Sheila. They have two daughters and a son.

Tonight’s forum tonight, sponsored by news website, will include Franklin County assistant district attorneys James Andrews and Andrew Robinson, Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck, Maine State Police Detective Randall Keaten and psychiatrist Art Dingley as panel speakers, according to the website.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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