HOULTON – Fifty-eight people, an average of more than four people per month, were busted last year for drug offenses in Aroostook County by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Those were just some of the statistics related to drug activity contained in the agency’s 2005 annual report, which was released on Monday. A portion of the figures was weighed by town councilors at their Monday evening meeting, shortly before they voted to assign a Houlton Police Department officer to the MDEA to help curb the maturing drug problem.
Seasoned Houlton police Detective Staff Sgt. James Skehan, who has been with the department since 1985, will begin transitioning into the new assignment later this month.
In concert with the MDEA statistics, councilors also considered the testimony of MDEA Division Commander Darrell Crandall before making their decision.
Crandall spoke at length about the prevalence of drugs both in Houlton and in surrounding towns.
The MDEA works to reduce the distribution, availability and use of illegal drugs through a cooperative statewide drug enforcement effort.
The agency recently received funding to bring two more agents into Aroostook County for assignments that are expected to last for two years or longer. Skehan will join the MDEA ranks along with Sgt. Bill Campbell, a detective for the Presque Isle Police Department since 1986.
The MDEA conducted 806 investigations last year and made 687 arrests. Of those arrests, 72 percent were for felony crimes.
According to the report, 36 percent of those arrested by the MDEA in Aroostook County last year were nabbed for prescription drug offenses, and 18 percent were jailed for cocaine offenses. Sixteen percent were arrested for marijuana offenses and an equal percentage for heroin offenses. Fourteen percent of violators were arrested for other drug crimes.
The numbers do not include arrests for drug offenses made by other law enforcement agencies in the state.
Town officials have acknowledged that Houlton has a drug problem. Despite the concession, some councilors were hesitant on Monday evening to assign a Houlton officer to the drug enforcement agency.
Councilors Paul Cleary and Phil Bernaiche voted against the decision.
Cleary said he liked the idea of having an officer in the MDEA but noted that the HPD is currently understaffed. The councilor expressed fear that assigning an officer to the agency would force the remaining Houlton officers to work even more hours to make up for the void.
“I just have a concern about what is going to happen to the department,” he said. “Once again, you are asking officers to step up and work a huge amount of overtime.”
Houlton Police Chief Daniel Soucy explained that Skehan would help ease his transition from HPD to the MDEA by working for Houlton two days per week for a time and spending the other three work days at his new assignment.
The chief said he saw the transition period as “a short, bumpy road.”
“It is going to work out, and it is going to work out soon,” he told councilors. “There will be overtime incurred, but we are going to try to minimize it.”
Chairman Paul Romanelli spoke in support of the idea, and the four remaining councilors voted in favor of assigning a Houlton officer to the MDEA.
“The gain outweighs the loss,” Councilor Gerald Adams said on Monday evening. “To me, it’s a no-brainer.”