Project OWN Cuts Down Drug Activity in Calais

One of the arrests made during Project OWN took place at this location on King Street in Calais. The arrest was made on July 22nd following a bail check. Erica Shain, 28, of Calais and Adam Farley, 38, of Calais were charged with possession of 1.3 grams of crack cocaine as a result.

By Lura Jackson

 

In an area that has somewhat notoriously struggled with drug addiction – including being hailed at one point as having the highest abuse rates of prescription drugs in the nation – an ongoing special project conducted by the local police departments has had dramatic success in reducing specific kinds of drug activity. In three years, Project OWN (Operation Watch your Neighbor) has essentially halved the number of incidents related to heroin and crack cocaine, Calais Police Chief David Randall reports. 

“We’ve been told many times over the last six months that it’s harder to get drugs in Calais than it’s ever been,” Randall said. “The last bunch we arrested said there was nothing in Calais at this time.”

The success of Project OWN is promising, and it represents exactly what Randall and his Baileyville counterpart Bob Fitzsimmons were hoping to accomplish with its implementation. When the program started four years ago, the departments were frustrated by the influx of dealers and product in both communities. “We just had to start thinking about it differently,” Randall said. “We were getting very low intel. We had to shake things up so people would make mistakes and so they could understand we’re out there.”

An anonymous tip line was opened up for the public to utilize, and calls gradually began to come in. Every call was meticulously recorded and the information kept for later use. The first call about a location would result in an officer casually monitoring it to collect evidence for a search warrant. Even if a search warrant wasn’t immediately viable, officers would conduct “Knock and Talks” at obvious problem spots. The residents would be informed of why officers were there and what they believed was going on. “We would be very open about what we were doing in the area and they knew we were there collecting information,” Randall said. “Sometimes it led to a charge and sometimes it didn’t, but almost always they would at least move on.” 

Since 2014, the department has made 27 arrests for drug-related crimes and seized $6,000 in drug trafficking charges largely as a result of Project OWN. Per Randall’s estimate, heroin and cocaine-related incidents have dropped from 85 percent to approximately 40 percent during the duration of the program.

While the police department’s efforts in a particular location weren’t always viewed favorably by family members, Randall would carefully express the officers’ situation. “It’s not personal for us. We are just trying to bring this dark addiction into the light so we can stop the crimes associated with it.”

Increasing police presence and visibility at problem locations has contributed significantly to the success of Project OWN. Drug dealers have widely left Calais, though many are now in outlying towns. Those that come in from other states to peddle heroin or crack cocaine are now staying in nearby towns rather than Calais itself. With that said, Randall is well aware that the problem is ongoing. “When you have an addiction in a community, it doesn’t matter how many drug dealers you put in jail, if they’re making money from it, they’re going to keep on selling to Calais.”

As a local himself, Randall shared how difficult it can be to see the impact of drugs in the community. “It’s sad to see people go through what they go through to fuel their addiction.” Randall has seen many families torn apart. “It’s sad when you have parents and grandparents coming to see me, wondering what to do. There’s no real easy answer unless the addict is willing to get help, and then sometimes it takes many times to get control of the addiction.”

Perhaps the most useful tool in the Project OWN utility belt is the community tip line, Chief Randall urges the public to continue using it. He cautions that though it may appear that the tip is not being acted upon, it is only because multiple points of evidence are required. “Every call I get, I’m glad I get it, because that person that calls might not know how many other calls we have on that location.”

To call the anonymous tip line and advise of suspicious activity, dial 454-8730.