AUBURN — Authorities in the Twin Cities are making fewer arrests in an effort to minimize the local jail population.

And police and deputies haven’t needed to take into custody as many suspected law breakers recently because many more folks are staying home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Moreover, the Maine Judicial Branch earlier this week vacated all outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court and pay court fines and fees.

“A lot of that is to eliminate the number of people who are in our jail system,” Lewiston Police Lt. David St. Pierre said Friday.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said he sent a letter earlier this week to police chiefs in all of the county’s towns and cities and other law enforcement agencies urging them to curtail arrests when possible and issue summonses instead.

“As we’re all dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, I’m asking for your assistance and cooperation in order to minimize the risk to our correctional staff and those incarcerated,” he wrote.

“In short, I’m asking that you and your officers consider alternatives to arrest to limit individuals from entering our correctional facility, particularly with misdemeanor nonviolent offenses.”

Lewiston police are exercising greater discretion in making arrests, St. Pierre and Auburn Deputy Police Chief Timothy Cougle said Friday.

While police continue to take into custody people accused of committing violent crimes, those suspected to have committed nonviolent crimes may be summonsed instead, they said.

Samson said some officers will call before bringing a suspect to the jail, like the Lewiston officer who called Friday morning to ask whether the jail would take someone he had arrested. Samson listened to the officer, then told him, “No,” the alleged conduct wasn’t a risk to public safety and the District Attorney’s Office would tell him to issue a summons.

Samson said an officer from an area law enforcement agency arrived at the jail Thursday morning after making an arrest for operating under the influence. After consulting with the District Attorney’s Office, the suspect was issued a summons and released.

The jail has also adopted a more stringent intake screening process, undertaken outside the building, where suspects are quizzed in detail about their medical condition. If COVID-19 indicators are present, a local hospital will be contacted before the suspect is booked into the jail, he said.

“I think everybody gets it; everybody understands,” he said. “And we’ve been fortunate, knock on wood, that we’ve had a minimal amount of incidents compared to what we traditionally have.”

These efforts, coupled with Gov. Janet Mills’ directive for people to stay at home, if possible, and for restaurants and bars to close, seems to be working, Samson said.

Fewer people are out in public as a growing number practice social distancing, St. Pierre said.

“If you look out of the window right now it looks like a Saturday morning,” in downtown Lewiston, he said. “It doesn’t look like a Friday afternoon.”

Cougle said: “From our perspective, it’s just really quiet out there. People are staying in right now. At least initially, which we hope they do.”

A week ago, Samson said the jail population had been close to its 160 inmate capacity.

By Friday, that number had dropped to 130.

Inmates serving sentences for “victimless crimes,” such as operating a vehicle after suspension, who have two weeks time or less to serve may be released early, as allowed by state law, Samson said.

As of Friday, no jail inmates had shown signs that warranted testing for the virus, he said.

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