Sheriff reports back to selectmen, with the numbers
In their first 75 days of providing police coverage in Bethel, deputies of the Oxford County Sheriff's Department answered 303 calls, issued 50 traffic citations, and arrested 15 people.
They also, according to Sheriff Wayne Gallant, accepted several compliments.
On Monday Gallant presented Bethel selectmen with a detailed breakdown of police activity during his department's first two and half months on the Bethel beat.
The breakdown included not only the total numbers of incidents, but also the specific offense or violation for each, as well as their day of the week and time.
For example, the calls included 86 different types of incidents, ranging from 911 hang ups (10) and welfare checks (7) to residential burglary or unlawful entry (8), assault (4) and gross sexual violence (1).
Among other types of non-traffic incidents, the deputies responded most frequently to thefts (31), suspicious-person calls (19), alarms (14), and domestic incidents (7).
The time and day-of-the-week breakdown unsurprisingly peaked on Saturday night into Sunday morning, Gallant noted. In fact, the hour of day with the single most traffic citations was 2 to 3 a.m. Sunday, when seven were recorded.
For the other six days of the week that hour was citation free.
The next busiest period was the two-hours from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, when four citation were issued during each hour.
Gallant told the selectmen that the detailed hourly analysis was provided because “it's pretty important – so you get an idea of what's going on while you're in bed.”
Board chairman Stan Howe apparently agreed.
“Most things happen while we're in bed, I guess,” he said.
Selectman Jack Cross expressed concern about the number of burglaries or unlawful entries.
“You've had eight break-ins,” he said to Gallant. “Have you found anything?”
“Those are in the investigative stage right now,” Gallant replied. “We certainly have some suspects for them. We know that for sure.”
Selectman Bob Everett, who owns Bethel Auto Sales, noted that over the past two years, several auto dealers and garages have had catalytic converters [which contain precious metals] stolen from their lots.
“It wasn't on your watch,” he said to the sheriff, “but people have actually jacked the cars up, cut the converters off and gone. Have you looked at any of that?”
The OCSO hadn't worked actively on those older cases, Gallant said, and he characterized such crime as a reflection of a statewide problem.
“But we're trying to work with our legislators on this, because there's got to be some kind of protection. These junk dealers in Portland -- If somebody showed up at my junkyard with 36 calalytic converters, there's a reason he got them, and it's probably not legitimate means.”
Thefts of copper are a similar problem, he said.
There have been no reported incidences of either form of theft since the SD took over, he said, but there have been thefts of “tools, firearms, liquor.”
These he described as “relatively low-level thefts. So that probably zeros it down to somebody local looking for an opportunity to get liquor or a firearm to try to sell them.”
Traffic and schools
Everett then asked about a non-criminal matter.
Drivers headed westbound toward Bethel on Route 26 encounter flashing lights, but no posted speed limits in front of the Telstar complex, he said, “And if you're coming the other way, there's nothing, period.
And I've had a couple of people say: 'Well, there was a sheriff's car out there, and he kind of pointed at me and wagged his finger at me to slow down. But to what?'
“I guess that's the question?”
Gallante replied that the lights were “cautionary.” not “legal.”
“The law in the state of Maine says that if you're traveling by a school – whether there's signs or no signs – when kids are going in or coming out, the speed limit is 15.”
He said his office has already discussed the matter with SAD 44 administrators, “and they should be getting some signs that say 15 miles per hour.”
But, he added, “there's no law that says those signs have to be there.”
“We have a car that stops there with the blue lights on,” the sheriff said. “Not to stop cars, but just to show that the police are there, every morning, and it has slowed the traffic down.”
Gallant said he hasn't seen a great deal of enforcement of the 15-MPH speed law, but another school-related traffic law is a different matter entirely.
That's the one requiring drivers to stop when school buses put their flashing lights on.
“It's zero tolerance,” the sheriff said.
And there doesn't have to be a police car there at the time of the incident. School-bus drivers, he said, are trained to quickly gather the information needed to help police identify the offending vehicle.