Predicting that about 95 percent of the 42 reports of prescription drugs the Westbrook Police received between March 2007 and March 2008 were false, Chief Bill Baker instituted the following step-by-step protocol in a memorandum to his officers:
- The first responding officer shall advise the reporting party of the penalty for making a false report of a crime.
- The first responding officer shall record all of the facts and circumstances of the theft as reported and conduct a preliminary interview and investigation.
- If a legitimate theft report can be investigated and resolved by the responding officer it should be.
- The reporting party shall be informed that any unresolved case will be assigned to our CID and a detective will contact the RP to take a polygraph exam regarding the details of the theft.
- The reporting party will be asked to acknowledge any previous theft of their prescription in Westbrook, or in any other jurisdiction.
- The reporting party will be asked to identify their physician and pharmacist.
- The reporting party will be asked to sign a release to allow us to communicate with their prescribing physician and pharmacist. (form to be provided)
- If the reporting party complies with all of these steps a report on any unresolved theft will be completed and will outline the results of our investigation.
Attached to the memo is a sample voluntary release form in which the person reporting the theft of prescription drugs identifies her prescribing physician and waives her privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a law passed in 1996 to address the security and privacy of health data. The form also authorizes the reporter's physician or pharmacist to "discuss any relevant history of prescription medication use that may be related" to the investigation to the Westbrook Police.
The policy, which has been put in place to prevent people from falsely reporting a theft in order to score more pills from their pharmacists, generated a mixed reaction among law enforcement officials in southern Maine. South Portland's Police Chief likes "the fact that it's spelled out exactly what the expectations are," and says he'll consider the approach in his city. And the executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association said the policy seems "pretty reasonable." On the other hand, the Chief of Biddeford Police and a member of the Maine Pharmacy Association were both concerned that the policy could be "victimizing someone who's already a victim."
Chief Bill Baker said the policy has already prevented two people from reporting thefts of prescription drugs since it was put in place last week. Also, he'll present the policy at a meeting of southern Maine police chiefs on Thursday.
- John C.L. Morgan