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Crime task force reinitiated
MEXICO -- As a tool to more effectively battle criminal activity, local, county and state law enforcement agencies have reinitiated a crime task force for this region and eventually, beyond.
A dozen people representing the Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield police departments, the Oxford County Sheriff's Office and the State Police gathered last Wednesday morning in the Lions' Den, next to the Mexico Police Department.
They were called there by Dixfield Police Chief Richard Pickett for the purpose of gauging the interest in getting a task force going again.
His interest in doing this was a result of the multi-jurisdictional investigation that resulted following the Nov. 7 pellet gun shooting spree that left 45 property owners in eight area towns with more than $10,000 damage.
Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield officers and Oxford County Sheriff's Office deputies interviewed victims and watched video surveillance from businesses leading to the arrest of a pair of Dixfield men.
"The key about that, to me, was that's the way law enforcement is supposed to work. Everybody worked together and put everything else aside except for one mission, to get the job done," said Pickett.
After that, he talked with other law enforcement agencies and asked, "Whatever happened to the task force that we used to have and meet?"
Several years ago, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant and Franklin County Detective Tom White were co-organizers of the Tri-County Property Crime Task Force, which included law enforcement from Oxford, Franklin and Androscoggin counties. Federal monies helped with the startup of the task force, which included a web site with information for the public as well as a form for people to leave anonymous tips.
That task force fizzled out over time, in part because the grant monies to fund it expired.
"In my opinion, there's probably a lot of MO's (mode of operation) and different things going on cases we're all investigating that probably mix and match with some of the things other people are doing, but we just don't have the information to be able to work it."
Pickett then provided an example.
"We had a MO that a person was going in and doing burglaries, and they were into jewelry. The first thing they'd do is go in and grab a pillow case off from one of the beds and that's what they'd dump everything in. And everywhere they went, there was always one pillow case missing from the house," he said.
"We were able to put that together with two (burglaries) we had in Dixfield on a guy who was actually in the system. He was a Franklin (county) guy and he was being sentenced after being caught and arrested," said Pickett, noting that Dixfield Police Sgt. Jeff Howe, in a conversation with White, learned that this was the same guy because of the missing pillow cases.
Without that information, Pickett said they would never have made the connection.
Oxford County Det. Lt. Chris Wainwright said he met recently law enforcement to discuss how they are putting information into the Spilman, a police information system. "Say you have 'pellet gun,' a key word in there or 'pillow case.' We can search by that, and if we could find a consistent way for all agencies to put information in there so that we're using a lot of the same codes..."
In addition, they should have develop a good contact listing so that if one had information to pass on, it could done quickly instead of scrolling down through.
Rumford Police Chief Stacy Carter said, "We all don't have access to everyone else's report, so in Spilman, if we set up a user group of all the contacts, and then a burglary or something comes in, as we review them, send out the location, what was taken and maybe a MO if there's something specific to the property crime user group so that every department gets that."
Gallant noted, "If you have a serious crime in Mexico or Dixfield (for example), call on us. It doesn't hurt us to send up one or two detectives to help you for half a day or a day. A lot can get done if you have eight or nine people. I think that's something we've really got to look at doing."
The agencies then discussed maybe contributing a small pool of money for a task force or at least getting a list of equipment (such as video surveillance/game cameras and night vision items) that could be shared.
In addition, Carter noted that the Rumford police and Oxford County Sheriff's Office websites both offer tip lines where information can be provided anonymously. Similarly, both the Mexico and Dixfield police departments are active on Facebook where people could leave tips as well.
"There's a lot of stuff going on. I know if our town they've started hitting the wood sites. They're going in there and they're taking the diesel fuel out of the skidders and stuff," said Pickett, adding that the same thing was happening in Canton and Jay.
"People, when they go to selectmen's meetings, are asking 'what can we do?' They're getting real nervous because they don't know when they come home and find their house ransacked or whatever. So there's a lot of unrest with the economic situation in the world today, let alone in our own state and county," he said.
Officials discussed meeting once a month at this same location, as well as inviting a representative from the Franklin County Task Force as well as Androscoggin County.
"The whole value of this task force is sharing information and that has to be a free flow, to and from," said Pickett.
State Police Lt. Walter Grzyb noted, "I think one of the goals of the task force should be to make sure that proactively they're searching out and finding all the stuff that's going on and all the information that's being collected and make sure it gets out to every patrol officer throughout the region."
Following a closed-door session to talk about ongoing cases, Pickett said homeowners need to be reminded that they should create a household inventory form, completed with the serial and model number for items like appliances and other valuables. People who own weapons should do the same.
That listing, which should be kept in a secure place, would help law enforcement to not only prove recovered items are stolen, but also to be in a better position to return those items to their rightful owners.