Attorney General Mills speech to the Maine Sheriff’s Association

January 15, 2009

I am pleased to have worked with so many of you in many different contexts—to have done search warrants in the middle of the night, to have questioned you on the stand, to have called upon you for help in civil cases which could turn bad.

Eagles…cows…reminded me of the people of Maine…I appreciate everything you do…and I can certainly appreciate the somewhat inevitable friction between you as constitutional officers and other elected county officials, and between yourselves and state officials who have similar duties to preserve the peace, patrol the roads and incarcerate people pursuant to court order and sentence.

At the same time, we are also facing a strong economic downturn, reduced state and local revenues, and pressures to do our jobs with so much less in resources.

Anecdotally, we are seeing more robberies, more homicides (31 last year, 17 of which were domestic violence related), more crimes of violence and exasperation, as well as more violence and threats by mentally ill individuals within and without our jails.

More than ever before, however, we need to work together, rather than compete. We need to resist turf battles and reach out to our brothers and sisters in law enforcement across the state.

One issue that remains one of the highest priorities of law enforcement in Maine—is domestic violence. Within minutes of taking the oath of office last week I was confronted with a raw and terrible statistic – 31 homicides in 2008. 18 of them domestic violence related. Sixty per cent of the murders last year were family or relational abuse.

Add to this information the fact that we experience the highest number of homicides in recent decades last year, and that half of the homicides in previous years, on average, were domestic violence homicides,--21 homicides in 2007, 8 of them domestic violence; 23 homicides in 2006, 9 of them domestic violence; 19 homicides in 2005, 10 of them domestic violence—and you see basically a doubling of the number of domestic violence homicides, in raw numbers, last year.

Few if any of these murders occurred while a protection from abuse order was in effect. This tells me that, most likely, protection orders work, as frustrating as they sometimes are to enforce.

But for nearly thirty years we’ve had in place a self-help remedy, protection from abuse orders…. Yet an estimated 30,000 adults are victims of domestic violence in our state in one year alone.

We have tightened the criminal laws and broadened the scope of protection orders. We have instituted a mandatory arrest policy and broadened the prohibitions on possession of firearms. What is it we’re not doing?

I suggest that most of what we’ve done to date has been to put a bandaid on the problem, after it occurs. We need to focus on prevention.

We need adult male role models for those children who have none—and there are many more than ever before.

We need men—those nascar heroes, baseball luminaries, music and movie stars—to send the message to boys and young men in Maine, that “heroes don’t hit;” that it’s cool to walk away; that the best way to get even is to ignore the person offending you and to find another outlet; to let off steam at the gym not in the kitchen; that anger is normal, but violence is not.

In addressing domestic violence, as in many other mutual challenges, my office stands ready to assist your departments and work with you to maintain public safety and keep our citizenry safe, even in tough economic times.

In recent years the office of the Attorney General has authorized sworn domestic violence investigators to cross jurisdictional lines in order to enforce bail conditions and protection order provisions. I believe we have saved hundreds of lives by taking this measure.

The Attorney General’s office and the sheriffs have a healthy history of cooperation in other areas as well. For twelve years the Maine Sherifff’s Association has helped enforce the laws against possession of tobacco products by underaged individuals.

For too many years, it was far too easy for a youngster in Maine to buy cigarettes or alcohol at local outlets. When money became available for sustained liquor and tobacco inspections, the Maine sheriffs association stepped up to the plate and filled the need.

Of the 20,000 tobacco investigations conducted and the 1,274 violations pursued, 1,272 of them resulted in adjudications, only two were not.

In recent years, the Maine Sherifff’s Association has conducted app. 1,500 liquor investigations for underaged purchasing, with similar success.

Since beginning these tobacco stings, Maine has recorded some of the best results in preventing underaged tobacco sales in the nation, with compliance rates of 90% or better for the past 11 years. At the same time, high school smoking rates declined from 30% to 14%.

Similarly, last year’s youth survey showed, for the first time ever, a significant drop in underaged drinking.

There is no doubt that the Sheriff’s Association’s participation in these investigations and their collaboration with the Attorney General’s office has deterred illegal use of tobacco and alcohol.

I am committed to continuing the work commenced by Steve Rowe and previous Attorneys General in combatting youth smoking and drinking, advocating for continued federal and state funding for these important programs which reduce access to illegal substances.

Another partnership I wish to note is in the area of elder abuse.

Maine is now home to more than 192,000 senior citizens—people over the age of 65. Maine is now the greyest state in the nation. Concurrently, law enforcement and adult protective services have experienced an increase in reports of elder abuse.

Attorney General Rowe created an “elder service officer” program which designates individuals in various law enforcement agencies who are specially trained in investigating criminal cases in which seniors are the victims. That program will continue under my tenure.

The program is enhanced by the elder justice training partnership, one of only ten such projects federally funded nationwide.

This program has trained more than 125 law enforcement officers, in addition to prosecutors, judges and advocates, in ways of detecting, investigating and prosecuting financial exploitation and abuse of elders.

Last year alone there were an estimated 14,000 cases of elder abuse in Maine, most of them not reported to law enforcement. A third of these cases involve financial exploitation—including theft by family members and caregivers.

Seventy per cent of elder abuse is perpetrated by family members. You know, very often, elder abuse is just domestic violence ‘gone grey.’ These cases suffer the same impediments to prosecution as other cases of domestic abuse, if not more because of the more vulnerable state of the victim.

As our financial resources are strained, we cannot forget the role of prevention and the importance of team work in protecting the public safety.

Despite tough economic times—or perhaps because of them—we will continue to work even more aggressively with community partners, including the sheriffs departments, to prevent crime through local “triads” protecting seniors, through violent crime task forces, through the organized retail crime task force, and other multi-jurisdictional teams to deter and prevent illegal drug use, violent crime and property offenses.

Like the cows in my neighbor’s field, who instinctively know how to survive, we will brave the current economic storm. We will work together, in the same direction. We will protect the safety of our people.