Portland, Maine, Police Chief James Craig is pushing to increase some crack and powder cocaine offenses from misdemeanors to felonies, but he isn't exactly receiving a warm reception from lawmakers concerned about prison overcrowding. He told the Portland Press Herald Tuesday that he plans to meet with other police chiefs, prosecutors, and legislators to plot his brave push backward into the 20th Century.
"Crack cocaine breeds violence," Craig said. "Crack cocaine will destroy this community if we don't stay ahead of it."
He cited recent incidents in the city that he attributed to cocaine users. He said three home invasions, three robberies, and a stabbing in a recent one-week period were committed by coked-out individuals.
Rep. Anne Haskell (D-Portland), co-chair of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, told the Press Herald she would listen to Craig's proposal, but expressed concern about costs.
"I'd be glad to have a conversation with Chief Craig and take a look at the kinds of things he's seeing. He's the person on the ground," she said. "If what he's seeing out there is what's happening, then folks ought to be held accountable, but we would have to find the money to do that," she said.
But Sen. Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick), the committee's senate chair, was more wary. "We're not going to start enhancing some of these crimes to fill up our prisons more than we have now," he said. "The legislature was very good at enhancing crimes and the time served, and we got ourselves in a pretty good mess."
Times have changed when cops looking for longer sentences for drug users are met by skepticism in the legislature.