Paris residents, police chief spar over crime stats

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PARIS — Numbers were the name of the game at Monday’s selectmen’s meeting where a few residents called into question statistics provided by Interim Chief Jeff Lange, while others stood by him.

During open session, Sarah Glynn cited numbers Lange used during last week’s selectmen’s workshop on policing about violent crime.

“I am concerned about the number put forth – the 61.1 in violent crime. The 61.1 is on a 100 scale, I still don’t know, Jeff, what that number means and where it comes from. It doesn’t seem to mean there’s 61.1 crimes for 100 people in the town,” she said.

Lange said in an email to the Advertiser one of the sources he referred to was a crime index number provided by the Sperling’s report, which indicated the town’s violent crime rate is 61.1.

Glynn, an attorney, serves as lawyer of the day in court and so far in the month of January, she said there hasn’t been one prisoner from Paris.

“If we have a problem within the town of Paris, we should figure that out based on the actual numbers not what this phantom number is at the FBI crime index,” Glynn said.

Later in the meeting, Lange said police logs published in local newspapers don’t reflect all the numbers.

“We as a whole [the] Paris Police Department do not arrest a lot of individuals when we see a certain crime. We have talked to the DAs on the hill, they prefer a direct indictment,” he said, adding the case comes before a grand jury, which decides whether or not it will head to trial.

But for violent offenses, such as domestic violence and other forms of assault, police are required by law to make an arrest, Lange said.

“If it’s a theft, a burglary, we work with the sheriff. He has asked us to go easy on who you bring in [to the jail] because it only burdens … the taxpayers,” he said.

“I never realized it was holding back putting someone in jail because of money,” Selectmen Chairman Mike Risica commented.

Rick Little was at last week’s policing workshop and also questioned Lange’s numbers.

“I am appalled at the suggestion that our crime rate was based on low-income housing,” he said, referring to Lange’s assertion that Paris has more lower-income housing units than surrounding towns.

Lange said this was inaccurate.

“I didn’t say crime is associated in any way shape or form to those individuals in low-income housing,” he said. “What I did say that crime has risen in the form of thefts and burglaries … due to the heroin problem.”

Little said from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., the town averages three calls, which he said costs $175,000 a year. Selectman Vic Hodgkins confirmed with Lange there is at least one officer patroling in town at all times. Lange noted Oxford and Norway normally have two officers patrolling at once and Paris doesn’t unless it’s the summer and/or there’s a special detail.

Little wanted to address the department’s call volume, which Lange said has increased by 55.3 percent since 2013.

“The numbers were different last week with 3,300 … calls a year,” he said. “We were told 61.1 percent was violent crime. That’s 5.5 violent crimes a day in the town of Paris. Does anyone in this town believe we have five and a half violent crimes a day?”

Also during open session, Kathy Richardson commended the selectboard for taking on the task of cutting $500,000 from the budget. But she said she feared “slash and burn tactics” by some in town, including a few selectmen, and decisions driven by an agenda.

“I am interested in statistics from whatever source but I don’t make up my mind from numbers because the only place things are black and white is on paper,” she said, noting the same zeal and vigor some have to eliminate the police department could be used to look at cutting other areas of the budget.

Resident Chris Summers said he has worked for Mechanic Falls Police.

“I will admit Mr. Little’s case that numbers when presented can be difficult to judge without context. The FBI and their reporting do so to try to track what goes on. To wrap your head around that is a lot like trying to wrap your head around the federal government,” he said. “As far as our department, whether it’s the police department, fire department … [when] there’s a bump in the night that department makes all of the difference to you in being comfortable in knowing there’s help out there or not.”

Lange said the most recent numbers provided by the Maine State Police were from 2014.

“From 2012 to 2014 the total index crimes … for Paris went from 27.7 to 129. That’s an increase of 365.7 percent. Now is this based on, which I think is a huge number, better reporting since we took over Spillman [reporting program in] 2013,” he said. “Those numbers stand by themselves whether it’s from the real estate website, city data website, the Maine State Police or the FBI. They all show there is a rise in crime in Paris.”

In other police news, selectmen gave Lange the green light to apply for a $100,000 grant, which could be used to offset a police officer’s salary.

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