Maine Chiefs of Police Awards Dinner

February 11, 2010

Maine Chiefs of Police Awards Dinner Friday, February 5, 2010 Attorney General Janet T. Mills

Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight. I am pleased to join so many men and women in blue—and brown—for this impressive ceremony. I am happy to see so many familiar faces--so many people I have worked with over the years—during my fifteen years as District Attorney, during the four years I prosecuted homicides & other major crimes under Attorneys General Joe Brennan and Dick Cohen, and in my years of private practice and legislative service on Appropriations, Judiciary and Criminal Justice & Public Safety.

I am pleased that Brian MacMaster is here. For more than 30 years he has been an effective liaison between the Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement. As Chair of the Academy Board, he has helped develop training curricula that are critical not only to defending against law suits but to effectively enforcing the laws and obtaining just convictions.

Brian is the Chief of the Investigations Division. But our lawyers also regularly seek advice from him on the law. He is a great resource for us and for you in so many matters. New developments in our office include new federal funding, so that AAG Lara Nomani is now working fulltime on the more than 70 unsolved homicides in our state. Kate Lawrence is working fulltime as our Computer Crimes AAG. And, again, thanks to federal stimulus funding, we now have a full complement of drug prosecutors working out of our office, including Lisa Bogue for the mid-coast region and Amber Tucker for York County.

I am pleased to have worked with so many of you in so many different contexts—to have done search warrants in the middle of the night together, to have called you to the stand, to have asked you for help in civil cases involving critical law enforcement issues. Now we are partners in many other endeavors. Your cooperation in the investigation of homicides, as always, is a crucial part of the work of our office. But as the financial resources available to any and all of us, from all nearly sources, are strained, we cannot forget the role of prevention and the importance of team work in protecting the public safety.

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

Despite tough economic times,--or perhaps because of them—we will continue work even more aggressively with our community partners. Whether combating elder abuse through the Elder Justice Training Partnership and local “Triads,” whether working together in violent crime task forces, whether sharing information through the organized retail crime task force, or coordinating efforts through other multi-jurisdictional teams to deter and prevent illegal drug use, violent crime and property offenses, your insights, your ‘street smarts’ and local intelligence, are more important than ever.

In the twelve months that I have been Attorney General and the chief law enforcement officer for this state—aside from directing major civil litigation, legislative work, child protective, support, environmental and regulatory enforcement,--two major criminal justice issues have been on the front burner for me every day in this job: Domestic Violence and Prescription Drug Diversion.

Domestic Violence
During 2008 police reported 5,311 domestic assaults, a slight decrease from the year before, but still 43% of all assaults. In 2008 there were 31 homicides, 20 of these, or 65%, were domestic violence or intrafamilial homicides, a substantial increase, a raw doubling of the numbers in recent years, a depressing statistic.

Only one of these murders occurred while a protection from abuse order was in effect. This tells me that protection orders, as frustrating as they sometimes are to enforce, are working to save lives.

For nearly thirty years we’ve had in place this self-help remedy, protection from abuse orders. 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.

Still, the numbers are high. They are unacceptable.

What are we doing about it?
-In recent years the office of the Attorney General has authorized sworn domestic violence investigators who can cross town and county lines in order to enforce bail conditions and protection orders. I believe we have saved hundreds of lives by taking this measure.
-We are spreading the word about Protection Orders, which do save lives. And every person who calls the police department about domestic abuse should be told about shelters, hot lines, protection orders and court resources.
-We are prosecuting the cases and obtaining convictions and significant sentences.

What can you do, you who are on the front lines every day?
Last week our office issued the 8th “Domestic Violence Homicide Review Panel Report.” The report made note of “compassion fatigue”—or what we used to call “burnout”—among law enforcement officers and other professionals who have repeated contact with a single victim. This is a phenomenon we all should recognize and talk about, lest we become too cynical and act less promptly and less professionally in responding to these cases.

In the 17 cases examined by the Homicide Panel, 3 of the victims had returned to their homes to retrieve money or belongings when they were murdered.

You can make sure that when a person asks for help, they receive it as soon as practically possible, that, in any event, they are discouraged from going back alone.

I practiced a little family law. I know that even the most otherwise intelligent, rational human beings, some of the most upstanding citizens, can lose their temper, can suffer frayed nerves, can become violent or threaten violence during the breakup of a relationship.

Don’t think, just because it’s Joe Schmoe, the guy you knew in high school, the local Rotarian without a criminal record, that bad things can’t happen when Joe’s wife is leaving him. Don’t take a chance. Your presence alone can prevent bad things from happening.

Don’t assume that because the couple is elderly, that there is no abuse. Seventy per cent of elder abuse is perpetrated by family members.

You know, very often, elder abuse is just domestic violence ‘gone gray.’ These cases suffer the same impediments to prosecution as other cases of domestic abuse, if not more, because of the dependency and vulnerability of the victim. But we all have to be tuned into it, ask the right questions at the right time. More importantly, in the cases reviewed by the Homicide Panel, fourteen children lost a parent, sometimes both parents.

These children, no matter where they are, no matter how strong their other family or community ties are, no matter how resilient they seem, they need intensive professional and community help and understanding.

For the rest of society, these acts of violence quickly become yesterday’s news. For these children, the trauma never leaves, the after-shocks last a lifetime.

You, and your officers, may be the first face that child sees, the first hand to help them escape a violent scene—a face and a helping hand that child will remember for the rest of his or her life.

We tend to forget, that each of these deaths is a real life cut short. Each death is different, each family, each child is affected differently, dramatically.

When the newsprint fades and the headlines are forgotten, the hurt endures, and a community begs for understanding. You and I know, these are not the quick and dirty, unfeeling, deaths we see dozens of times each night on network television. These are real human lives cut short. These are families torn asunder. Each death is real. Each is different. Each brings permanent consequences. Each of you is a role model in your community.

We need to recruit more adult male role models for those children who have no good role models—and there are many more of these children than ever before.

We need women and men—law enforcement officers, Nascar heroes, baseball luminaries, music and movie stars—to go into the schools, to send the message to boys and young men, 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 home; that anger is normal, but violence is not.

Prescription Drug Diversion
The other major issue I want to talk about is the disturbing problem of prescription drug diversion. Every day, the newspaper headlines are filled with stories of prescription drug trafficking cases.

Arrests by MDEA alone, just for prescription drug offenses, have increased from only 7% of their cases in 1998 to nearly 42% in 2009 and still increasing—six times as many arrests as those for heroin, more than for cocaine, more than marijuana, more than crack, amphetamines or any other drug.

According to Roy McKinney, diversion of prescription drugs has now outpaced cocaine for the first time. 21,661 pills, capsules and tablets were seized in 2009 alone.

The Attorney General’s Office deals with prescription drugs and prescription drug abuse in a number of areas—in the environmental arena, public safety, child protection, MaineCare fraud, death investigations, consumer protection, elder abuse, prosecution of homicides, prosecution of drug offenders and representing professional licensing boards, among others. We see it everywhere.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Prescription drug diversion is an epidemic in our state, in our country. It has killed many more people than the H1N1 virus.

The number of deaths from prescription drugs between 2000 and 2008 more than doubled. There were 164 deaths involving prescription drugs in 2008,--four times the number in 1997. As Dr. Marcella Sorg has noted, the number of persons dying from drug overdose now rivals the number who die each year from motor vehicle accidents.

The percentage of these deaths caused by at least one pharmaceutical has increased to greater than 90%, the highest percent ever. Our tax dollars are paying for the drugs (MaineCare, Medicare) and our tax dollars are then paying for the treatment for addiction and dependency. Doctor shopping has become commonplace, expensive and difficult to control.

Elderly people are being abused and exploited for their prescriptions. A woman in her 70’s said she allowed her grandson to take her pills and use them himself and sell them on the street, leaving her with only small insufficient doses, because she was afraid he would leave and she would have no one to take care of her if she didn’t.

The newly published US Dept. of Justice report, “National Prescription Drug Threat Assessment,” concluded that diversion and abuse of prescription drugs has cost public and private insurers $72.5 billion a year and that it has resulted in a 114 percent increase in overdose deaths.

In the past eighteen months, at least six of the murders committed in Maine were related to prescription drugs. People are killing each other over these pills.

Then, of course, there are the robberies, thefts, burglaries, home invasions and assaults of all kinds.

More importantly, 464 drug-affected babies were born in Maine in 2008 alone. Imagine the impact of these births on our foster care system, on our health care system, on our education system, on the social, medical, economic fabric of our society. And most of these babies were born in the rural areas of Maine, Lewiston north…This is not simply a city problem.

Meanwhile, news reports and youth surveys tell us that drug abuse has become rampant in our schools.

Prescription drug diversion is the number one cause of crime in Maine. It is one of the major causes of death in Maine. It is a public health issue, an economic issue, a public safety issue.

So what are we doing about it?
-We are working on improving the drug mailback program.
-We are going after the licenses of professional who divert prescription drugs.
-We are using the Healthcare Crimes Unit to go after health professionals who divert drugs. This is the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit for the State of Maine, which investigates fraud or abuse by a health care provider or its employees or abuse or neglect or exploitation of a resident of a health care facility or by a provider, including home health care services, that is funded by MaineCare or Medicare. Reports of such incidents to our HealthCare Crimes Unit are an exception to HIPAA. Reports are not only encouraged, they are required by state and federal regulations for medical professionals. And good faith reports are provided with immunity.

The Healthcare Crimes Unit can receive detailed information regarding prescription drug diversion and patient care and abuse. You can make reports and you can encourage others to provide us with confidential information about drug diversion.

The HCU Hotline Number is: 626-8870
And the HCU email is: ag.hcu@maine.gov

What else are we doing?
-We are speaking to physicians, to pharmacists, to hospitals and nursing homes, to licensing boards, prosecutors and police.
-We are asking all prescribers and providers to please use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, to prevent doctor shopping, hospital shopping, drug seeking in and out of state.
-We are helping the medical boards to revise the prescribing protocols for six major medical professionals. Letting them know that underprescribing is not their worst fear; overprescribing is. We are asking them to have uniform contracts with patients who seek opioid drugs, to go the extra mile to stem the supply of opioids and benzodiazapines.
-We have revised our death investigation protocol to pay special attention to drug overdose cases. All too often these deaths, or near death cases, are written off as self-imposed with no cause for criminal prosecution. We want to examine these cases in much more detail. With the help of your departments and MDEA, we will trace the drugs to their source—legal or illegal—to their pharmacy and their prescriber.

What can you do, as people on the front lines?
-You can understand and follow the revised death investigation protocol.
-You can use the HCU hotline to report health care fraud/px diversion by medical professions, from CNAs to surgeons.
-You can meet with local medical providers. Start a listserve and inform them of who’s been arrested for drug offenses, who’s got bail conditions, who’s been convicted and who’s on probation. If they don’t happen to find out, they will have no way to know that a drug-seeking patient has already been caught selling the stuff on the street.

You, as Chiefs and Sheriffs, have to balance budgets, manage personnel, report to local elected officials, while dealing with basic law enforcement problems day in and day out. With occasional handouts from the federal government, you, like us at the state level, are dealing with dire financial times that add to the stress of everyday law enforcement.

Yet a police officer is still expected to be so many things to so many people:
A friend, a counselor, a comforter of children, a consoler of the stricken, a finder of lost souls, a saver of lives;
A truant officer, a mechanic, an expert in the law;
A peace maker, a protector, and a punisher;
A queller of disturbances, an enforcer, a force for calm, an athlete, sometimes a punching bag;
A team player, and a lonely beat walker in the middle of the night;
A humanitarian, a hero, a scribe;
A person with 20-20 vision and perfect hindsight at the same time;
A traffic director, a controller of dogs, a race car driver;
A shoulder to cry on, a strong arm, and a good sport.

An officer must respond to every emergency, every call, with haste and equanimity; with a placid but probing demeanor; understanding yet questioning; remembering and writing every detail; acting always on intelligence, intuition, good training and raw nerves, reserving all emotion.

All this and more: An officer is caring and professional, a perfectionist, cautious and concerned.

While no one is all of these, you and your officers try, every day.

And to you I tip my hat.
And to the spouses and family members, I offer you my deepest gratitude for patiently sharing your loved ones with us in this most demanding of all professions.

Thank you all.