Thelander blames uptick in violent crime on Pingree, progressives in D.C.

·4 min read

Sep. 15—Republican congressional candidate Ed Thelander campaigned in Portland on Thursday, expressing his support for law enforcement and accusing U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of being anti-police following a string of shootings in Maine's largest city.

Thelander, who is challenging Pingree this fall in Maine's 1st Congressional District, criticized Pingree for supporting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would have scaled back police powers and limited legal immunity, and for calling out in an email response to a constituent "police brutality" that disproportionately affects Black people.

"Violent crime is rising in Maine and I believe it will get worse as people become desperate this winter," Thelander said during a news conference in front of Portland City Hall. "Much of the blame for this rise in crime are the results of policies pushed by Rep. Pingree and her progressive colleagues in Washington."

Pingree, a Democrat who was reelected in 2020 with 62 percent of the vote, responded by highlighting her support for bills providing funding for local police officers and accused Thelander of trying to distract voters from other issues, such as abortion rights. She did not address the Justice in Policing Act, a bill she co-sponsored that passed the House but died in the Senate because of Republican opposition.

"It's clear that this line of attack was handed down to my opponent by the national Republican Party," she said, "because Republicans don't want to talk about their real agenda: banning abortion and banning books in schools while having no economic plan besides massive tax cuts for wealthy corporations and defunding Medicare and Social Security."

The news conference came amid a sharp increase in violent crime in Portland, which has seen 42 shootings and 17 stabbings so far this year — up from 13 shootings and eight stabbings during the same period last year.

In a written statement before the news conference, Thelander, a reserve deputy sheriff and a former Navy SEAL, said people "can't help but worry" about their friends and family in Portland and lamented "the need to remain vigilant" when visiting the city. He also noted how police have had fireworks shot at them while responding to reported crimes, including shootings.

Last week, the Portland Police Department said a lack of staffing — the force is down 25 officers, or 15 percent of its 161 authorized positions — would force it to limit outside officer details to increase patrols in certain neighborhoods.

Thelander attributed the staffing shortage in Portland and other communities to anti-police rhetoric and proposed policing reforms.

Chief among those reforms was the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would have increased police accountability, mandated training on racial bias, banned chokeholds and limited the transfer of military-grade equipment to police. The bill was introduced after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota sparked demonstrations in cities across the country, including Portland.

Portland Police Chief Heath Gorham could not be reached Thursday to discuss the causes of his staffing shortage. At a news conference last week, Gorham said it was a combination of the current labor market, which has many businesses struggling to find employees, and the backlash against police in 2020.

In response to questions, Thelander defended controversial police tactics, such as no-knock warrants and chokeholds. He described the Justice in Policing Act as a "knee-jerk reaction" to please constituents or earn votes.

"There are thousands of people getting choked out on jujitsu mats everyday across America," he said. "When done properly — and properly trained — it's a heck of a lot nicer than getting tased, which is legal."

He urged Pingree to support the "Back the Blue Act," which would increase the penalties for killing or attempting to kill law enforcement officers and expand the authority of law enforcement officers to carry guns.

Pingree did not address her support for the Justice in Policing Act, or her email response to retired FBI agent Todd DiFede, who asked her to support funding, training and appreciation for law enforcement officers.

Pingree responded in May by noting that Black men are more than three times as likely to be shot by police as white men, adding that "we must address the scope and magnitude of the harms caused by police brutality in the United States," according to an email circulated by Thelander's campaign Thursday.

Pingree also encouraged DiFede to contact his local municipality, since police department funding is ultimately decided by town and city leaders, not the federal delegation.

In a written statement on Thursday, Pingree highlighted her support for bills that increased resources for local police. These included the American Rescue Plan Act, which was opposed by Republicans and provided $350 billion to cities and towns to help fund law enforcement. She also noted that, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, she helped secure funding for Community Oriented Policing Services grants, which Portland had received in 2021.

"My opponent should know that the role of a member of Congress is to provide resources for law enforcement, not to tell local police how to do their jobs," Pingree said.