From right Assistant Attorney Andrews and Assistant Attorney Robinson, Dr. Dingley, Detective Ketean, and Chief Peck. (Courtesy of Marcelle Hutchins.)

By Marcelle Hutchins – Staff Writer

The combination of murder, home invasions, and armed robberies gave rise to questions about whether big city crime has come to Farmington County at the University of Maine at Farmington’s (UMF) Lincoln Auditorium. The forum on crime was sponsored by and moderated by Farmington attorney, Woody Hanstein.

On a cool winter’s night, students from UMF joined faculty and citizens of Farmington on the discussion of violent crimes in Franklin County. Questions were answered by five panelists which included assistant district attorneys James Andrews and Andrew Robinson, Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck, Maine State Police Detective Randall Keaten, and psychiatrist Dr. Art Dingley.

Standing at the podium was Hanstein addressing the audience. The first question for the five panelists was, “Has crime gotten worst over the last ten years?”

Peck, who has been in law enforcement for 28 years said, “The overall crime rate has not increased.” Although he agreed that crime has gotten worse, aside from last summer’s murder, “Farmington has not seen a crime since 1999,” he said.

Both Robinson and Dingley echoed Pecks comments, but Robinson added that crime has always been here. “It didn’t shock me that there was crime occurring. I was shocked by how close the crimes in 2011 were.”

According to Andrews, “It is very natural for these types of crimes to occur. People have valid reasons to be concerned.” Andrews said such crimes have not been caused by strangers, but against friends and neighbors.

The War on Drugs, especially Opiate, was brought into the discussion when Andrews said, “there is a common thread of prescription drugs that is widely available;” however, he added, “it is not the cause of crime” because drug crimes in the past have been committed against people with illegal drugs.

Dingley agreed with Andrews, and from what he’s seen “without these drugs, there would be less crime.” From a 2010 pharmacy data report, “9.8 kilograms per 10,000 people in Maine were prescribed painkillers,” said Dingley who emphasized the problems that drugs cause, such as financial and social problems.

In 2006, the state legislation made it a felony for possession of illegal painkillers, but while the law has been changed, said Keaten, “repeat offenders don’t think of the same value system as we do. This is a multibillion industry, and that kind of subculture market is in Farmington.”

While 9,000 felons currently serve in Maine’s state prison said Dingley, “it’s certainly the perception of the problem.”

The five panelists all agreed that there is a struggle on setting bail for repeated crimes. But through what is called deferred disposition, said Robinson, “a person can plea guilty for the charge and have that charge reduced. Under the constitution, people in the state of Maine have the rights to be bailed for or bailed out.”

“But if that person gets bailed and commits a crime,” added Andrews, “they’re back in front of the judge again. The bail will be higher.”

Hanstein in closing the discussion asked, “2008 to 2009 was the worst recession we’ve ever had. Is the economy fueling any of our criminal crime?”

“People have been talking about the economy since the 1950s,” began Dingley jokingly, “but I don’t see it having an effect on crime.”

While some saw no effect, others such as Keaten argued that “the economy adds to it.”

Andrews said, “I see crimes of metal theft and shoplifting. I don’t see the economy fueling crime.”

During his closing statement, Robinson urged the audience to be aware of their surroundings. “We live in a wonderful community. Communicate things that you see. Be cognitive to the things around you.”