In a recent study, Sabattus has been declared the safest city in Maine. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

SABATTUS – In a random selection of 55 cities and towns with more than 5,000 residents, Sabattus has been declared the safest municipality in all of Maine, according to a study released this week by the online company HomeSnacks.net.

Surprised?

The police chief and town manager say the town does so much to maintain the peace, they would have been surprised if it had NOT been named the safest.

“The members of the Sabattus Police Department are committed, sincere and hard working,” Chief Sheila Wetherbee said. “They work long, 12-hour shifts and miss holidays and family events to cover shifts to keep our town safe. They deserve to be recognized for their selfless service to their community. I am proud of each and every one of them.”

That’s not bluster. Wetherbee can and will explain in great detail how she and her officers maintain the kind of peace that studies like this one highlight.

For three years, the online company has been gathering numbers and ranking cities, neighborhoods, counties and states on a variety of criteria.

For the “Safest Cities” study, it looked mainly at the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2018, which summarizes the number of property crimes and violent crimes in each city per year. The FBI numbers for Sabattus look good, indeed.

“This is all great news,” the study writers reported, “for folks who just want a chill place to play some disc golf without fear of injury or Frisbee theft.”

In the past year, according to HomeSnacks.net, “there were a total of 19 crimes committed in Sabattus, which had a reported population of 5,057. That means the number of crimes per capita is 0.0038, which translates into a 1 in 266 chance of being the victim of a crime.”

In terms of violence and property crime, Sabattus is roughly 20 times safer than an average American city, the study reveals.

All of this, again, is old news to Wetherbee. She knows that Sabattus is a safe place and she can tell you why that’s so.

“I can tell you that we are very proactive in our approach,” she said. “My officers do a lot of traffic stops. The main focus is not to write summonses, it’s to educate the public and make positive contacts. They also make it a point to stop at many of the businesses and visit the employees as well as move about town a lot during their shifts.

“We are very active when it comes to interacting with our community,” Wetherbee continued. “Not only does this keep us in touch with what’s going on, but it lets the criminal element know that we are out there and we may be around the next corner. We have also had a School Resource Officer for a little over a year now. He works with our students and juvenile offenders before they go on to commit more serious crimes. He has been instrumental in turning these kids around, when in the past they went on to become young adult offenders.”

Wetherbee also stresses continued training for her officers as they prepare to confront a vast array of different problems within the community.

“We continue to train our officers on how to deal with a percentage of the population that struggles with mental health issues,” Wetherbee said, “so that when they encounter sensitive situations, they do a better job at getting these people the assistance they need instead of criminalizing them.”

Town Manager Anthony Ward, likewise, could have predicted this.

“The town of Sabattus has a strong history of community involvement and neighbors helping neighbors,” Ward said. “These community values greatly aid in developing a safe community. These core values translate into the services provided by our town employees.

“Equally important is a police department that completely embraces the community policing concepts,” Ward said. “The Police Department is continually developing or enhancing relationships with our residents, businesses, schools and other stakeholders. These relationships assist in identifying potential at-risk areas and minimize potential crime within our community.”

Alas, where there is good news, there must also be some of the grim. According to the HomeSnacks study, Augusta is the most dangerous Maine city, followed by Skowhegan, Biddeford and Bangor.

Auburn was listed as 51st in the ranking of the randomly selected cities and towns, with No. 1 being the safest. The study’s writers threw in one caveat, though, pointing out that Auburn experienced an enormous 34 percent reduction of violent crime between 2017-2018.

Lewiston was ranked 41st on the list.

With all that said, the report also points out something that residents of Maine’s more “dangerous” towns and cities can take to heart: “It’s also important to remember that dangerous is relative and Maine, as a whole, is super safe. Augusta wouldn’t even show up on most states’ Top Ten lists.”

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