Law enforcement officials tell us that when it comes to fighting crime, law enforcement cannot do it all.

When it comes to drug-related crime, responding to calls for service and arresting the bad guys is not enough. An effective response requires addressing the public health aspects of drug abuse, devoting resources to prevention and treatment that would make the police officer’s job more manageable.

The recent crime statistics report for Maine indicates that not enough of that is happening. While Maine remains an a relatively low-crime state, and last year saw declines in a number of crime categories, including murder, we are not becoming a safer place.

The state has seen a dramatic 19 percent increase in robberies in which violence or the threat of violence was used. Burglaries, which can lead to violence if the intruder is discovered, are on the increase too.

Police know what’s behind those increases. It’s drug use and an addict’s need for money to support a habit. And police know how to go after it.

“We really have to take a wide view and position on this,” said Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. “It takes having viable prevention programs, viable law enforcement programs and viable treatment progress to address this issue.”

McKinney is right, and those non-law-enforcement tools should be sharpened, even though to some it would look like being soft on crime or coddling criminals.

We have a good track record in this country of using a multifaceted approach to tackle complex social problems. Drinking and driving used to be a tolerated activity until a coordinated effort to get tough on drunk drivers, educate the public about the dangers involved and help alcoholics get sober had dramatic results.

Public health campaigns that have informed people about health risks of smoking and helped smokers quit are complemented by law enforcement efforts to crack down on stores that sell tobacco products to minors.

The police are right: If you wait until after the crime has been committed, your response will be too late. Treatment and prevention may be seen as “soft” approaches to fighting crime, but underemphasizing them makes law enforcement’s job too hard.


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