AUGUSTA — Dealing with the drug crime and the illegal activity that spirals from it is like putting together a giant puzzle without knowing who might have the key piece to complete the picture.

Now all the law enforcement agencies that operate across the capital region are putting their pieces on the table to see what they come up with.

On Thursday, officials from Gardiner to Clinton and communities in between, Kennebec County, the state police, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties and the state Department of Corrections started to work out the details of what their drug crime task force will look like and how its members will collaborate with the expectation of a concrete outcome.

“We’ve got small agencies with maybe one detective,” Winslow police Chief Shawn O’Leary said. By putting investigators from across the region together to talk about what they’re working on, he said, all the agencies can take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

“Just about everything you read in the newspaper or see on TV for crimes, there’s a high probability it goes back to opiate addiction,” O’Leary said, including burglaries, shoplifting and thefts. “And if you talk to educators, you’ll see there’s a spike in the number of children who are coming into school with a learning disability that is oriented toward drug abusers.”

Rather than treating each crime as an isolated problem, looking at trends across the region could mean a stronger response.

“Things are happening now,” Gardiner police Chief James Toman said of enforcement already taking place with the cooperation of a number of agencies. “We’ve had significant arrests in the last couple of months in Gardiner, and we have taken guns, needles, cash, drugs and people off the streets. We have always worked collaboratively. This (task force) strengthens that collaboration and we’ll keep making that impact.”

Augusta Mayor David Rollins said he’s not sure the public understands the scope of the problem.

“No matter what age you are, no one has seen anything like this,” said Rollins, who also attended Thursday’s meeting. “We saw a wave and it’s welled up and crashed over us.”

For its part, Augusta is holding a community forum on Monday at Cony High School to start a community conversation about drug use and related crime.

“The economics are terrifying,” he said. “You can get a bag of heroin on the streets for $5. The people buying them are the people who start with painkillers that cost $30 a pill.”

Pulling together a broad range of stakeholders can have an effect on more than just law enforcement said Lt. Scott Ireland, of the Maine Information and Analysis Center. The center, Maine’s designated fusion center, collects, analyzes and shares intelligence between the federal government and the state. It also provides analytical and investigative support for complex crimes.

“If we can find out what drugs are being laced with,” Ireland said, “we can share that information so that EMS knows how to treat folks who have taken these drugs.”

Interim Kennebec County Sheriff Ryan Reardon, who convened the meeting following a double murder on Dec. 25, said he was pleased with the outcome and the direction the task force is taking.

The next step, he said, will be to bring together front-line investigators and to start to compile intelligence they can act on.

“We are in the process of identifying targets in the more serious crimes here lately,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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