Maine Gangs Part 1: Statewide 

Most Mainers would agree that gang members aren’t lurking around every corner, but what seems to be harder to grasp is whether or not it is a problem that needs dealing with.A bill introduced this session aimed to address that issue on a statewide level. To some members of the legislature, LD 1707 addressed an issue they hadn’t given much thought to before. Last month, “An Act to Define, Prevent and Suppress Gang Activity in the State” went before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.”It was the first exposure for many committee members and the public that there might be gangs in Maine,” said Rep. Gary Plummer, Chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.The bill’s sponsor, Representative Amy Volk of Scarborough, worked with the Maine Gang Task Force to put it together. The task force presented her with research, some which came from the FBI, that supported the notion that gangs are moving into Maine.”The original intent of the bill was to get at adults who are recruiting minors into gang activity and what I was told, by somebody who works at a juvenile detention facility, is that these juveniles will be caught and the adults normally wouldn’t have any penalty whatsoever,” said Rep. Volk.A later amendment to the bill included a mandate for local police agencies to adopt a statewide definition of a criminal street gang.”I think there may have been some perception that this is a southern Maine problem. I’m not sure that’s completely accurate in talking from people,” said Rep. Plummer.The committee had a lot of questions.”A lot of what they considered was law enforcement awareness around the issue, whether or not they perceived it to be a problem, and what they discovered is that, southern Maine, Portland, Lewiston, that they’re already dealing with gangs,” said Volk.But dealing with it on a statewide level is where it got tricky. Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia says his police department and others farther north don’t have a gang problem.”As you move more into central Maine, eastern Maine, northern Maine, we move away from that. We don’t see the gang activity that they’re seeing. Will that happen someday? Perhaps. And I might even say probably. I don’t know when,” said Gastia.He says it doesn’t make sense to pass legislation that would affect police departments around the state that haven’t had to deal with the issue.”If I have a problem here in Bangor and it doesn’t affect anybody else, I don’t expect every other agency to adopt a policy for that. I think that holds true in this case. If this continues to move through the state in 10, 15, 20 years, we may need to look at a statewide policy, but we’re not there right now,” said Gastia.Ultimately, members of the committee and Representative Volk herself agreed to kill the bill. “We really looked at that and realized it was quite an imposition on small agencies that really, realistically never encounter gangs and probably won’t encounter gangs anytime soon. I realized that that wasn’t a mandate I was willing to impose on those agencies,” said Volk.But another bill addressing gangs in Maine could come up in the future.”I don’t think that we’re quite ready to deal with the issue yet. I think that the bill was successful in that it did get people talking and considering the issue,” said Volk.Plummer says he agrees the bill put gangs on the radar screen. He says if lawmakers consider an anti-gang bill in the future, it might be on a smaller scale. He said, “This piece of legislation tried to do everything all at once and I suspect we will see some other legislation back involving gangs in the future, but often times to get where you need to be you need to take small steps to get there.”