Eighteen law enforcement officers sworn in as deputy federal agents
PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Police across the state are stepping up their efforts to prevent pharmacy robberies in Maine.
At a ceremony at the United States Attorney's office in Portland Thursday afternoon, 18 police officers were sworn in as deputy federal agents to assist in investigating pharmacy robberies and prescription drug abuse.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, in 2009 there were eight pharmacy robberies and burglaries in Maine. That number increased to 21 in 2010. Pharmacy crimes leveled off in 2011 at 24, but in 2012 pharmacy robberies and burglaries skyrocketed to 58.
At the end of last year when pharmacy robberies reached a peak in Maine, U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty requested federal assistance from the FBI in investigating the cases. So far this year, there have only been six pharmacy robberies in Maine.
"Law enforcement at all levels have taken the investigations further by pursuing the associates of the actual person who committed the robbery," Delahanty said. "They include friends who help plan the episode, friends who scout the store, and friends who drive away the getaway vehicles."
Federal officials attribute the decline in pharmacy crimes this year partly to increased resources and stricter sentences, but also more widespread availability of heroin and other opiates on the street level, leaving plenty of work still to be done.
"It's been critical to involve the federal judiciary and prosecute them at the federal level to get higher sentences," Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said. "The word gets out to the people who are thinking about robberies whether it be bank or pharmacies that if the federal agencies prosecute you will have a significant sentence."
By swearing in an additional 18 officers to work across the state in investigating the crimes, authorities are hopeful the pharmacy robbery problem will continue to subside.
Of the six robberies so far this year, officials said nine arrests have been made.
Police have also begun to distribute signs to pharmacies across the state warning people they could be prosecuted federally if they commit pharmacy robberies.