AUGUSTA — Law enforcement officials from several agencies have been invited to attend a meeting Thursday to find a better way to attack drug crime in the region.

Interim Kennebec County Sheriff Ryan Reardon has extended invitations to police chiefs across Kennebec County and communities in neighboring counties, the Maine State Police, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.

“I know that as a group, there are many talented people in this county working for police agencies,” Reardon said. “I think we’d work more effectively as a group.”

In the last two years, Reardon said, the nature and types of crime have undergone a shift to a more serious level.

“Today, I have 22 confirmed gang members in the jail from five different gangs,” he said, adding that the total jail population is about 140. “It creates a unique situation.”

The gangs, he said, are setting up shop, like any supply-and-demand situation. They get a customer base and try to expand their reach.

Drug crime is not new to the region, but the uptick in violent crime over the last two years is disturbing, he said. Although affidavits related to a Nov. 23 homicide in Augusta and a double homicide in Manchester on Dec. 25 have been sealed, the sheriff said this week that the two are related.

“This isn’t the normal kind of stuff that we had become used to,” he said. “There is an elevated level of aggression.”

He cited an alleged kidnapping in Chelsea three years ago, arson, and the recent murders as examples, as well as waves of burglaries and thefts.

Ryan Frost, Winthrop’s police chief, said town residents are expressing concern about the property crimes.

“We can see a correlation between drugs and property crimes,” Frost said. In most cases, the thefts and burglaries are feeding drug habits, and they appear to be on the increase, he said.

While police agencies communicate, he said, there’s no formal mechanism for that to happen.

“Our detective liaisons with the MDEA and the major crimes units with the sheriff’s office and the state police,” he said. “We do attend intel meetings if something comes up. Keeping communications open and cooperating is critical to putting people behind bars who need to be there.”

Reardon said smaller groups of agencies might be working together, but he would like to see broader cooperation to build a clearer picture of what’s happening.

In the case of the recent murders in Augusta and Manchester, he said, “It was very revealing that there was an association in the street level between the two different incidents, close enough to draw a connection between the two.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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