Brunswick’s creep factor

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On the evening of Nov. 17, Carolyn and I walked our dog around the perimeter of the Bowdoin College campus as we have become accustomed to doing since moving to Brunswick a year ago.

Carolyn decided to walk the dog home and I was driving back when police cars raced into the parking lot of Howell House, the Maine Street student residence that was once my father’s fraternity house.

The next morning I read that the police were responding to an incident in which a female student had been grabbed from behind on Potter Street, not far from the home of U.S. Sen. Angus King.

A week earlier, a Bowdoin woman had been raped by a stranger in a college apartment complex just a few blocks from our house. The assault on Potter Street angered and upset me enough that I contacted everyone I knew in town to suggest it was time for some sort of public safety meeting to inform residents about what was going on, what the police and campus security were doing, and how citizens could help. That hasn’t happened yet.

When I asked local folks what they thought the problem was, I was told that “Brunswick is changing and not for the better,” “creeps” from downtown were showing up with increasingly regularity on campus and in the neighborhoods around campus. Just a partial list of the incidents this year attests to what one Bowdoin alum called “the darkest semester I’ve ever seen.”

On Sept. 21, a prowler was reported on the second floor of Smith House. On Sept. 29, someone attempted to break into a student apartment on Potter Street. On Oct. 6, someone tried to enter a student apartment on Union Street. On Oct. 7, a peeping Tom was reported at a student apartment on School Street. On Oct. 11, a student reported being followed on Park Row. On Nov. 3, someone attempted to photograph a student through a window on Potter Street. On Nov. 10, not only was there the rape on Belmont Street, but a peeping Tom was reported at student apartments on Harpswell Street.

Town officials have told me that they have not seen a statistical increase in such incidents. If so, Brunswick is a lot creepier place than I ever imagined.

On Dec. 1, a convicted sex offender, who had been attending a support group at the Congregational church next to campus, was arrested for breaking into a woman’s apartment in Bath and exposing himself. The church evicted the offender support group, and some folks seemed to think that might put an end to incidents. But then, on Dec. 13, another female student was grabbed from behind late at night on Longfellow Street.

If Brunswick police think the arrested man was involved in any of the other incidents, they have not said so, and that’s part of the problem – lack of information.

The sexual assaults and peeping Tom incidents came at the same time that students of color at Bowdoin were reporting an increased incidence of racial slurs and verbal harassment. So there is more than one form of creepiness afflicting Brunswick at the moment. Indeed, there was also an incident of racism on campus this fall when the sailing team held a “gangsta”-themed party and paraded around in public dressed in corn rows and hip-hop gear.

At the behest of the college, the Brunswick Town Council has formed a task force to look into issues of racial bias in the town. That’s a start. I am hopeful that the council will also address the issue of sexual predation.

In 32 years in Yarmouth I never had a single reason to call the police and we never locked the doors, even when we went away for a few days. In one year in Brunswick, I have already called the police three times. The first time, it was because our car had been burglarized in our driveway. Then there was a dead skunk on the walkers’ path between the elementary school and the middle school. Most recently, I called to report a hypodermic needle on the sidewalk near the elementary school.

Brunswick is a lovely town, a former mill town and military town, a college town and a market center. But with a population of 20,000, Brunswick is really a small city and it’s starting to have city problems. Homelessness and the social issues that go with it – drug addiction, mental illness, crime – are not as evident as they are in Portland, but they are here.

Some folks seem to think the season of racial and sexual harassment is primarily a college problem, but it is simply unacceptable that any woman should fear walking the streets of Brunswick after dark.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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  • Aliyah33

    Brunswick is a lovely town. I’d agree; additionally most of the people are decent – good people. The creep factor you write about has always been there, and unlike some, at least you’re willing to bring up the subject, because denial won’t lead to change.

    Having lived next door to a peeping tom – a neighbor with a history of incest against a sibling 10 years his junior, and a dent in his forehead should’ve been flags for experiences to come, which included criminal actions. Unfortunately, these were discovered later.

    Therefore, it’s not necessarily a “creeping” problem by those coming from “downtown”, the drug users, the sexual predators stalking in the night, the homeless and mentally ill, nor convicted sexual offenders from a support group whom several may erroneously deem the obvious perpetrators. So many factors come into play; a broader perspective’s needed.

    I’ve lived in Brunswick most of my life. Group stalking behaviors (aka “gang stalking”) occur. Brunswick’s a small town with small town roots, familial and other connections play a large part in action (and inactions) which include how the Brunswick Police Department operates.

    I’m aware of at least three incidents when citizens reported suspected drug activity in their neighborhoods, they were ignored. Topsham police later arrested one of these previous neighbors, who at one time ran for a Brunswick town councilor position. Hate crimes have also been historically ignored by Brunswick’s police department (documented, but you’ll find difficulty in getting these reports). Police Chief Richard Rizzo had also apparently looked the other way concerning racial slurs and bullying while police chief in Ayers, MA (Kelly Proctor was murdered by the Mcguane brothers) before being hired in Brunswick.

    Keep in mind the majority of sexual assaults are not reported. Some of these assaults occur by insidious, manipulative psychological methods by a perpetrator well-known to the victim who’s sometimes left feeling fearful, vulnerable, and ashamed to have been duped. Some of the perpetrators of sexual assault may be considered pillars of the community, or well-known, well-connected. So instead of focusing on what the person may look like, perhaps we need to find ways to empower people (including males) including recognizing methods of perps and risky situations. It’s possible some of the college students aren’t cognizant of safety precautions, and may erroneously believe Brunswick’s safe because it’s a small town. Perpetrators of sexual assault would assess vulnerability.

    • EABeem

      I’d just like to have town officials clear the air with an open public safety meeting. Let Bowdoin security explain what they are seeing, let BPD explain what they see happening and what they know about the crimes, and let the public and students know how they can help to make Brunswick’s streets safe.

      • Aliyah33

        Perhaps you could take the lead in this case. I understand you’re feeling frustrated and concerned, because you’re doing what you can – and bringing the subject up. You have a voice with your Opinion articles not available to the majority. Therefore, I commend you for a willingness to write about the issues and wanting a change; it shows compassion and empathy.

        Brunswick’s town officials and BPD talk “transparency”, but a pattern of actions show differently. I don’t know about Bowdoin security, but guess there may be more information about an MO (modus operandi) they may not want to let people know. Crimes on the books recorded by police are the only ones BPD may talk about. If it’s not recorded or reported by the police, those crimes don’t exist – including hate crimes. That’s why Bowdoin students and potential students may not have a true – or better – picture of the town when they google.

        Back to taking the lead. Perhaps the town officials will open up a place for a series of public safety meetings (and opportunity for questions and answers) for which you could ask people from the police department, Bowdoin security, SASSMM, a martial arts expert, to name some possibilities. From what I hear, so far there’s nothing immediately coming from the “top”… which means there needs to to some pushing from the bottom up, so to speak.

        • EABeem

          Well, I’m new in town, so I’m not sure how things work. I have been in touch with town and college officials to ask for more public information. So far, not much has come of it.

          • Aliyah33

            Not surprised about the town (or BPD) when it comes to getting public information. This has been my experience along with many others re Brunswick.

            SASSMM (Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine) is a suggestion; an excellent resource with exceptional and compassionate people. They may be able to help you get the public information you’re seeking, and help set-up public safety meetings. BPD officers (and possibly Chief Rizzo, too) have been on the SASSMM board and connected with the organization. sassmm.org

            Another avenue, where you’re likely not able to get much for public information, but perhaps worth a try: The DA’s Office of Cumberland County, which also has connections with SASSMM.

            You may be new in town, but your heart’s in the right place to get the ball rolling.

          • Chew H Bird

            The college strong armed the church to void the lease for the support group. Instead of working to solve problems, Bowdoin seems more intent on pushing them to the other side of town.

            The town council forming a task force is simply politics as usual and will function as political fodder or gain depending on perspective.

            Brunswick (and most other rural Maine towns) have always had issues similar to the current crop of atrocities. I don’t want to think about how many young ladies were coerced into actions they didn’t want inside Bowdoin’s frat houses over the years.

            I grew up with a child molester living across the street and as a local spend my high school summers hanging out with other youth (often in public places) attempting to engage in activities not becoming a gentleman.

            What is different is the awareness and reality of the lack of targeted effective resources to resolve violent behavior. Instead of our town council forming a paper tiger task force, I would rather have a better trained police department.

          • EABeem

            You might also want to ask why Brunswick has such a relatively small police force.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Perhaps if Bowdoin used some of their billion $ endowment to pay property tax on the hundreds of millions $ of property they own the town would be able to afford to hire more police officers as well as improve the schools since education is the real answer to this type of crime and bigotry. Unfortunately a good liberal like Beem could never ask an ultra wealthy institution like Bowdoin to pay its fair share. God forbid! Much better to create a do nothing task force to figure out ways to make the crime move back to the low income parts of Brunswick where Beem thinks it belongs.

          • Aliyah33

            A “small police force” isn’t the problem; looking at the numbers Topsham has approximately 1 per 750 citizens and Brunswick has about 1 per 534. Even when BNAS existed, the base had MPs. Brunswick has had these issues with what you call a “creep factor”, but ignored them. I agree with Chew, Brunswick needs a better trained police force – and add it needs police officers held accountable when they ignore and/or violate State and Federal laws already in place.

          • EABeem

            Topsham has less than half the population of Brunswick. I won’t pretend to know what’s gone on in the past, but relative to other Maine towns and cities with around 20,000 people, Brunswick has a smallish police force. Auburn, Biddeford, Sanford and South Portland PDs are all larger.

          • Aliyah33

            It’s the caliber of the police department and its officers under the leadership of Chief Richard Rizzo which maintains the status quo. As you’ve written, there’s difficulty in getting response and public information from the town and BPD – status quo.

            None of Maine’s towns live inside a bubble, and that includes Brunswick. Topsham has a tremendous influx of people shopping at the mall, while Brunswick has lost much of that business along with BNAS. Maine’s LEO are allowed to work outside their jurisdictions.

            Part of the drug issues can be attributed the ease of movement directly from the highway. One of the neighborhoods reporting suspected drug activity abuts the highway; the other was near BHS. These reports went ignored by BPD.

            The other part of the problem is documented history of unethical, unlawful actions by some of the officers of BPD – not all. Nothing’s been done to change the issues you’re writing about; they’ve been known – status quo exacerbates and magnifies what’s now spilling over into Bowdoin college area and it’s getting lip service. It seems the town and BPD are in CYA mode now with recent implementation of a toothless task force and BPD’s anonymous bias report on its website. The laws on the books should’ve been enforced to begin with. As a friend said to me, “The fish is rotten at the head.”

          • EABeem

            All news to me. Not sure what the problem is. I just don’t think a young woman should have to fear verbal harassment and physical assault in Brunswick.

          • Aliyah33

            Well now it can be said you’ve been told…therefore, it’s really up to you if you want to look some more and fix the problems, which are great, but not insurmountable.

            I think no one should ever have to experience or fear verbal harassment and physical assault in Brunswick.

          • Calli Sol

            Where’s the proof crime is being covered up? You monitor crime reports for fun…scanners….ambulance calls…assaults at Coffin, HBS or the high school? Marines are long gone; as are enlisted billets in town. Damn quiet town compared to days when the Base was operating and jeeps prowled Mckeen st., and the frats dumped out hundreds of drunk students on weekends.

            Unless you’ve got evidence, you shouldn’t undermine either Bowdoin security, state police task forces, town police or elected officials with criminal justice backgrounds.

          • Aliyah33

            Experience – my own and many others. Start digging first…try getting the reports from the town and the State’s AG office, too. Guess what? Difficult if not impossible. But the evidence in documents is there. By the way, if you read more carefully, I wasn’t undermining anything about Bowdoin security, because I’ve not heard nor experienced anything firsthand with them. As far as I know, they’re doing their jobs. Further, I have a background with criminal justice as well.

        • Calli Sol

          Stir things up that don’t need stirring and you’ll upset a lot of people. Bowdoin works very hard to keep it’s ‘dirty laundry’ out of public sight. All of my contacts with Bowdoin over student offenses have been handled quickly and the offender sent home, never to return. Outsiders, esp. those on the margins of society invited here by liberal do-gooders, are observed and if they become a nuisance or start committing crime are moved elsewhere. The last thing we need is an outside agitator redefining petty crime to hysterical proportions so they can make money writing about it. Beem makes money writing….duh!

          • Aliyah33

            Your approach is typical for those trying to cover-up the problems, instead of addressing them. That’s why we’re seeing some of these issues surface. It seems your opinion’s that Beem only writes about what brings him money. Okay.

    • Calli Sol

      Lived here 40 years; many students are from wealthy, sheltered homes or from dangerous cities with street smarts…L.A., Phila, D.C., NYC. Lived in both, and crime here is a lot less than Portland, Waterville, or Augusta.

      • Aliyah33

        Missing the point. Crimes, including sexual assaults, occur any where in this country, even in Brunswick. Seems some recognize both the changes, and underlying history; I’m sure most would rather try to fix these issues instead of ignoring them and becoming more like Portland, etc.

  • truther

    I only know Brunswick as a visitor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the problems you write about are the result of increased awareness, rather than an increase in the actual number of incidents. The racial stuff, especially, is most likely the result of students feeling more empowered to push back against things they feel are inappropriate.

    Your own experiences are a case in point. You compare the 3 911 calls not to how it used to be in Brunswick, but to how it used to be in Yarmouth, which is apples to oranges. Plus, of your three calls only the first — the car break in — was exceptional. A dead skunk is hardly unique to Brunswick (there’s been a skunk carcass at the East Main Street exit on Route 1 in Yarmouth for at least a month), and the needles are ubiquitous. We all know there’s drug use in Yarmouth.

    Your final sentence is intriguing. “Some folks seem to think the season of racial and sexual harassment is primarily a college problem,” you write, and I was waiting for you to expound on this, but you passed. Don’t you think Bowdoin, like any college campus, generates a lot of this stuff itself? Isn’t it reasonable to assume some of these perpetrators are students or employees? When I was in college, for example, the only person who ever tried to rob me was the maintenance guy in my dorm (I caught him red handed). College kids are easy prey for some people and they attract people who wouldn’t otherwise make the effort.

    • EABeem

      Sounds like blame the victgim to me. Not up to your usual thoughtfulness.

      • truther

        Oh no you didn’t!

        Look, I wasn’t blaming any victim. I was responding to the assertion, made by you, that “creeps from downtown” were infiltrating the nicer areas of Brunswick and causing problems for the residents there. (Technically you quoted “local folks” but you did so with approval.)

        That merely begs the question who these “creeps” really are and whether they are in fact new. Nobody seems to actually know the answer to that.

        Which leaves open the possibility not all of these bad vibes are in fact legitimate. You suggest that Brunswick is seedier than Yarmouth because you’ve had to call 911 over a needle and a dead skunk, conveniently ignoring that there are dead skunks in Yarmouth and drug users, too. Absolutely it feels safe in Yarmouth, but there’s enough in your piece to suggest that some of the sentiment up in Brunswick is due to perception rather than established fact.

        • Jimmy_John67

          Beem hasn’t been able to gentrify Brunswick yet like he did to Yarmouth so that only the one percenters of Maine can afford to live there. It makes him feel good to constantly write about how much he cares about low income Mainers but he doesn’t want to actually live amongst them and deal with their icky problems. According to Beem the crime needs to stay squarely in the low income parts of Bunswick where the liberals like him can happily ignore it and go about slowly raising property taxes and the cost of living to force those icky low income folks out of town.

          • Just Sayin’

            Low income folks aren’t generally worried about property taxes. Rent costs, yes, but property taxes much less often.

          • Jimmy_John67

            So you think rising property taxes have no impact on area rents? Do you think that as taxes go up the landlords just eat the increase and don’t raise the rent on the tenants?

          • Calli Sol

            Brunswick is renowned for non-profit exemptions and high property taxes. Maybe Bernie will give Beem an exemption?

          • Calli Sol

            Maybe some social house will adopt him as liberal crank; good for a chuckle and old fashioned liberalism.

        • EABeem

          The “some folks” comment reflects conversations with people in the neighborhood who did not seem worried because they did not have young women in their households and a few cranks who scream “liberal” and “political correctness” as soon as they get out of bed each morning.

          • Jimmy_John67

            So says the crank who gets out of bed screaming “conservative” and “racism/bias” each morning.

        • jack bauer

          Just a friendly reminder, Beem has no use for facts when he writes.

          • EABeem

            I stand by everything I wrote. Which facts are in dispute?

    • jack bauer

      A thoughtful response to the column. Thank you. You raise interesting questions and point out how Mr. Beem feels that ” a dead skunk on the walkers’ path” warrants a call to 911 and should be included in the conversation about crime in Brunswick. Run for cover! A dead skunk!

      • EABeem

        Not 911. Animal control. I thought that’s what they did. Guess not.

        • Calli Sol

          In Brunswick, we ‘d dispose of the skunk ourselves; sounds like ex-pats from Yarmouth don’t want to get their hands dirty and instead want the government to do it for them. …too bad they don’t clean up after your dogs; like you should, but don’t.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Glad I’m not the only one who has witnessed Beem fail to pick up after his dog. Got to love the “selfless community leader” who leaves feces all over Brunswick and Bowdoin property. Perhaps Brunswick should create a task force to address the issue.

          • EABeem

            Not only do I pick up after my dog, I pick up after other people’s dogs. I also pick up trash in the woods and along the trails. When we walk around campus, I pick up and bring the bags home rather than leave them in campus trash cans.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Well I have observed otherwise. In fairness you did appear to be distracted. Perhaps it was because you were keeping a sharp eye out for racists around campus? At the ready so you could call the Thought Police at a moments notice and have the offender removed from town or at the very least placed back on the other side of town out of sight and out of mind from your ivory tower.

          • EABeem

            You do appreciate, I suppose, how creepy it is to have an anonymous online commenter claim to have seen me fail to pick up after my dog, something I do religiously. I do hope you cleaned it up. If not, tell me where it is and I will do so.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Funny how you don’t think it’s creepy when random people “stop you every day to tell you how much they appreciate your work” as you have claimed multiple times in the past. Sorry no harm intended but your picture is in the paper every week and I simply recognized you as I was walking by only to see/smell a fresh mess a few feet later in a melting snow bank. This was back in the spring and as I mentioned you seemed to be distracted so perhaps you just didn’t notice or maybe I just wrongly concluded the mess was from your dog. If I see it again I will certainly mention it to you. In any case I will take you at your word that the instance was an outlier and thank you for picking up after your pet as I am constantly horrified at how some residents treat the Bowdoin campus as a personal toilet for their pets.

          • EABeem

            There is a difference between people introducing themselves to you face-to-face and anonymously accusing you of things they claim to have seen you do. That said, I’m sure there have been times when I failed to notice and others when, off the leash, my dog may have made a deposit somewhere in the woods. As amusing as it has been to discuss canine toiletry, my main point in this column was simply that there have been a series of verbal and physical assaults on people in Brunswick this fall, I am concerned about it and would like to think public spirited citizens might be able to help. Unfortunately, I get the impression from some of the anonymous posts that I am making a big fuss about nothing, that there is nothing to be done about racism and sexism. I hope that is not what you are suggesting, but it is what I hear.

  • Jimmy_John67

    As a long time Brunswick resident I would say there has always been crime of that type in town however the difference you are seeing is that there is now crime in the part of town that you live in (aka the “nice” part of town) due to the changing demographics in that area in recent years. You and the rest of the Brunswick liberal elite didn’t seem to care about this type of crime when it was contained only in the lower income portions of town. However now that it has spilled over to the part of town where you, Angus and the little darlings of Bowdoin live it suddenly warrants an immediate response and action plan from the Brunswick PD, Town Council, etc etc.Talk about hypocritical however I can’t say that I am suprised.

    • EABeem

      If you are a longtime resident, you knew these problems existed and you did nothing about them, then shame on you.

      • Jimmy_John67

        Nice try to deflect away from your glaring hypocrisy. Are you trying to say you had no idea there was crime of this type in Brunswick prior to the previous months events around Bowdoin? I highly doubt that considering the paper you work for prints the arrest records for the town on a weekly basis. Its clear you knew the crime existed in town but chose to ignore it until it trickled into the area where all the infallible liberals like yourself live. So shame on you.

        P.S. When I witness a crime or view suspicious activity I call the police which is how I do something about these problems. The police are fully equipped to handle these issues and certainly don’t need vigilantes like yourself roaming the streets trying to “protect” young women.

      • jack bauer

        Interesting. Mr. Beem is blaming a peaceful, law-abiding resident for failing to do something to stop crime. Perhaps he’s suggesting that citizens gear-up and patrol the neighborhood.

        • EABeem

          Nope, just thinking residents might want to take a little responsibility for helping to maintain the peace. It’s called a sense of community, something conservatives don’t seem to believe in. All I have asked the town to do is provide some information for public awareness and asked how the public can help keep racists from verbally harassing people and rapists from physically attacking people. Sorry if that’s a problem for some people.

          • Jimmy_John67

            There’s the hypocritical crank now!

  • RLKMom

    It is not just the immediate area around the college…. There have been a lot of issues with break ins in the Meadowbrook neighborhood as well which is further down Maine St. past Parkview. We lived on a dark road outside of town for years and never had one issue. We decided to move to a “family” neighborhood for the kids sake and in the first year had our house broken in to and attempted a second time – both while we were home! It seems like at least once a week a house or vehicle on our street is robbed and they are strictly after cash so you are more likely to be robbed while you are home… We have motion lights on 24/7, all doors chain locked, got a second dog and are having a security system installed. Brunswick PD keeps telling people to report, they will increase patrols etc., but we never see them.

    • EABeem

      Thank you. Sorry to hear that.

    • Calli Sol

      Lot’s of property crime around Bowdoin, cars especially. MAC books are the #1 favorite; small change and backpacks are next. People rarely report it any more….unless they’re from Yarmouth and live in a fantasy world.

  • Calli Sol

    Let’s hope you don’t sponsor any more of those high school graduation parties; Bowdoin has a boozy history we’ve been able to reign it in by abolishing the frats where your daddy got drunk and who knows what else. …like father, like son?

    College security is run by pro’s and the crack house is nearly empty. BTW. you aren’t picking up after your dogs, there are cameras everywhere.

  • Kevin McCarthy

    Ed, I think the purpose of your article may have been derailed by your headline and your citation of “’creeps’ from downtown” as a suspected cause of the problem.I realize that you were reporting someone else’s words, but they to take on an odious meaning in the context of the column. The inference is that “but for those creeps from downtown” there wouldn’t be a problem. As a Bowdoin graduate from 40 years ago, I wouldn’t underestimate the potential creep population among the student body. Whether or not that’s relevant to the issues you describe is unknown, but the attitude exemplified by those attributing the problem to the “creeps from downtown” is problematic. And may be worthy of its own column.

    • EABeem

      You’re probably right.

  • BonnLass

    When the Navy families resided in Brunswick and Topsham there was a joint community effort for safety and a respect for the military. That’s all gone now and Angus should be reminded that Brunswick lost it’s pride of patriotism! It’s gone to the dogs.