LePage: Drug Trafficking a Problem, Despite Maine's Biggest Crime Drop in Decades
Maine's latest crime statistics show an overall decline of more than 9 percent last year in nearly offense category. But despite the largest crime drop in more than 20 years, Gov. Paul LePage says the state must do more to curb the significant increase in drug activity that he says is being driven by an influx of out-of-state drug dealers setting up shop in Maine.
Maine has seen its largest single drop since 1993 in reported crimes across nearly every category. Gov. Paul LePage says the fact that Maine is one of the nation's safest states reflects the quality of law enforcement officers and leaders.
But he says there's one brand of criminal the state needs to eradicate: "We need as a society to get the drug traffickers off the roads," LePage said.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills released data earlier this month indicating that 176 Mainers had died from drug overdoses last year, largely from opiates such as Oxycontin or heroin. LePage says he would have no problem following Louisiana's lead when it comes to maximum sentences for heroin dealers, which have jumped from 50 years to 99 years behind bars.
"If we're going to fill our prisons with somebody, let's fill it with the people that are poisoning our kids and get them off the streets, and make sure that they never have an opportunity to do it again," LePage said. "It's amazing when you see statistics: 12-year-olds are being addicted to heroin in our state. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty-year-olds are being found dead of overdoses."
LePage says he could have done more to battle opiate crime in the state, but his efforts were stymied by majority Democrats in the Maine Legislature.
"We we're willing to put in 10 DEA agents, we wanted 14," LePage said. "We were going to put in a lesser number of judges, a lesser numbers of DAs and the money's sitting doing nothing. It's sitting and doing nothing because of politics - because of bad policy. People come to Augusta and don't do the right things."
"The war on drugs has been lost when you use the approach of 'arrest them' only," says Sen. Anne Haskell, a Portland Democrat who serves as assistant Senate majority leader.
Haskell says LePage has only himself to blame for the defeat of the drug enforcement bill - simply because he refused to allow any portion of the initiative to be used for drug treatment.
"At the end of this session there was a compromise package which would have provided more DEA agents and would have provided some resources for treatment and the governor rejected that out of hand - no sense of compromise and the balance between enforcement and treatment for drug abusers," Haskell says.
Even as the governor announced his frustration with opiate abuse in Maine, he was sitting out a regional governor's summit on opioid abuse in Massachusetts, where the chief executives of the other New England states were discussing collaborative strategies to combat the problem. LePage says his time is better spent here.
"If you haven't noticed, I'm the only Republican in New England, and I've not been heard once in four years, so rather than listen to chit chat, I'm here trying to get the work done," LePage said.
Only two categories of crimes showed an uptick: aggravated assault and rape.