The number of unsolved murders or cold cases in Maine is as high as 120 or more. On average, 20 to 25 homicides occur annually, with about 90 percent resulting in arrests. That other 10 percent of homicides that go without arrests, without a trial, without an opportunity to hold someone accountable, without details of what exactly happened, is inexcusable, and I, for one, am embarrassed as a state elected official that it’s been allowed to happen under our watch.
That’s why Sen. Linda Valentino, Rep. Barry Hobbins and I introduced, LD 1121, An Act To Fund the Cold Case Homicide Unit in the Department of the Attorney General.
It has been suggested year after year, that there are other funding priorities. Last session a similar bill passed, but was left unfunded. Most recently the governor’s administration has even stated that there are other more pressing priorities. Say that to the many families waiting in limbo for closure for years with no news of their loved ones or details of their death; no peace in knowing that the person is still out there and could harm them or other people. Isn’t it our job to fight for them? Imagine if that was your child, your sister, your brother, mother, father, friend. Put yourself in their shoes. What is state government doing for them? So far, nothing.
What troubles me even more are the individuals that haven’t been brought to justice. A major role of government is the protection of its citizens – to enforce our laws to keep some semblance of order in our society. This is a public safety emergency. We have allowed murderers to roam our streets. That should bother each and every one of us. We’re more concerned about someone going 10 miles over the speed limit on the interstate than we are with protecting the public from dangerous criminals.
We can’t wait around for the federal government to act either. We need to step up and put our money where our mouth is. The amount of taxpayer dollars we are talking about is about $500,000. This money would go toward two state police detectives, a forensic chemist and other costs related to creating a cold-case homicide unit. That may seem like a lot of money, but it’s not in the bigger scheme of things out of a $6 billion-plus budget. Just give me 10 minutes and a red pen, I’ll find you that money. It is worth every cent to protect the innocent and seek justice for the ruthless and cowardice killings of Mainepeople.
Luckily, after hearing hours upon hours of testimony from the public, the Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Hobbins, voted unanimously to approve the bill. Even if it passes in the House and Senate, the issue will still come down to funding. Sen. Valentino will fight hard to make it a budget priority as a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle shouldn’t vote just based on emotional pleas, but see this is a logical initiative to improve efficiency in state government, effectiveness in our criminal justice system and safety for Maine people.
Justin Chenette is serving his second term as state representative for Saco District 15. Outside the Legislature, he is owner of Chenette Media LLC, a multimedia public relations company, and is the president/CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Follow updates ast www.justinchenette.com, facebook.com/justinchenette and twitter.com/justinchenette.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco