March 18, 2010

Cape Elizabeth arrest numbers double in year


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Police Chief Neil Williams attributes an increase in arrests to grants that fund more patrols and to a younger police force.

2007 Press Herald file

Staff Writer

Cape Elizabeth saw its arrest rate nearly double in 2007, but Police Chief Neil Williams said it's not because of a crime wave.

Extra patrols paid for by grants -- combined with the energy of a younger police force -- are behind 132 arrests for everything ranging from drunken driving to violating bail conditions, the chief said.

That's a fraction of the arrests made by police in the nearby cities of Westbrook and South Portland, but it's nearly a 100 percent increase from the 69 arrests that Cape Elizabeth police averaged in the previous four years. Before last year, the highest number of arrests was 85.

Williams said it is possible that criminal activity may have increased and that tough economic times may be leading some people to drive drunk, for example, but he attributed the higher arrest numbers mostly to the fact that the department was able to pay overtime to police so they could work targeted patrols.

''In these tight budget years, these grants have come in very handy,'' Williams said. ''It's allowed us to put officers on the road and for them to do their jobs.''

Capt. Brent Sinclair said the department received about $6,500 in grants aimed at curbing drunken driving, speeding and underage drinking.

A $4,000 federal grant allowed the department to add an extra patrol car for 18 four-hour details to run radar from July to September. The traffic stops targeted drunken drivers and speeders, but some drivers were arrested for violations such as violating protection orders. A $2,500 grant from the Cumberland County Underage Drinking Enforcement Task Force paid for two extra patrol cars to be on the road for eight days in four-hour shifts, Sinclair said.

''Some of that involved traffic stops and going to known party sites in the woods,'' Sinclair said.

The minors were charged with violations, while an adult caught giving them alcohol or a place to drink would have been arrested.

Williams said the demographic shift within the department also is leading to more arrests. Of the eight patrolmen, most are in their late 20s and 30s.

Williams noted that the younger officers have embraced the mentoring of their older peers and seem ''just more into the job, more inquisitive; and therefore they are really more vigilant.''

''A lot of the times, the older officers are the ones who are following up on complaints and the younger ones are on the road running traffic,'' Williams said.

Town Councilor Paul McKenney said he has noticed how invigorated the police force seems. He recalled that last summer, some of the younger officers set up a sting to catch bicycle thieves in their hideout in the woods.

McKenney said he was not surprised at the rise in arrests, given the Police Department's dedication and focus.

The police chief said he expects to get more grants this year, but he did not think the arrest rate would necessarily stay high.

''I'm hoping with more enforcement, we'll see decreased numbers because people know we're out there,'' Williams said.

Staff Writer Josie Huang can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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