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'Nuisance' crimes prompt summit in Portland's Bayside neighborhood

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'Nuisance' crimes prompt summit in Portland's Bayside neighborhood

Update: The Bayside Neighborhood Watch meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29 at the Lost Coin Cafe, located at 40 Portland St.

PORTLAND — Jeff Goldman is tired of people drinking alcohol in public, urinating and defecating in the neighborhood around his Bayside home.

"The nuisance crime issue has gotten worse and people are fed up with the lack of movement," Goldman said.

Over the past few months, Bayside residents have been attending neighborhood watch meetings and with the help of police, coming up with suggestions for Preble Street Resource Center, the Cumberland County district attorney's office, police and local stores that sell alcohol.

"There is frustration in the neighborhood," Goldman said. "More people are using Preble Street and more people are coming into the neighborhood than used to."

Police Chief James Craig has invited Preble Street administrators, District Attorney Stephanie Anderson and Bayside business owners to a meeting Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. to discuss the nuisance crimes that some residents feel are getting worse and more frequent.

"The idea is to ask them in public to look into these suggestions and have them explain why or why not the things can be done," said Officer Karl Geib, who is assigned to the Midtown Community Policing Station located across the street from Preble Street Resource Center.

Preble Street representatives have accepted the invitation, and Craig will be there. Geib said the owner of Dyer Variety Store has agreed to attend, too. Anderson is not attending, but a deputy district attorney will, according to Anderson's office.

The neighborhood watch group, along with police, would like the DA to prosecute "nuisance crimes" such as drinking in public, criminal trespass, obstructing public ways, disorderly conduct and small-time drug dealing. According to Geib, the office has a "probable cause-no complaint" policy.

"The DA office is strapped for resources, so they focus on the big crimes," he said. As a result, police aren't making arrests for public drinking and other nuisance crimes because there is no due process. Geib said when he and other officers assigned to Bayside do make the arrests, it just results in the offenders spending a night in jail.

"You still have to do the paper work, the jail gets upset having to deal with it and the person is out on the street the next morning to do it again," he said.

"We're asking the DA's office to work with police to get the real trouble-makers off the street," Goldman said.

Anderson's office this week declined to discuss the upcoming meeting or the "probable cause-no complaint" policy. Spokeswoman Tamara Getchell said in an e-mail that Deputy District Attorney Megan Elam would attend the meeting on Sept. 29. She said she was "not sure that we have received any of the suggestions so far that we can comment on at this point."

The neighborhood watch is asking Preble Street to more strictly enforce suspension of services for identified trouble-makers, assist the police in identifying people with warrants and end the policy of giving inebriated clients breakfast to go if they are causing problems (because the containers are often discarded in the streets).

Jon Bradley, the associate director for Preble Street, has been attending the watch meetings. He said the nonprofit day shelter and service center wants to work with the neighborhood residents. 

He said the community needs to be better educated about Preble Street. He said the agency does enforce suspension of services, and on occasion serves criminal trespass notices, but added, "we do that reluctantly because our goal is to get people in, not keep them out."

Bradley said police are welcome to enter the building if they have a warrant. If the warrant is for something that causes immediate concern, staff will identify the offender. If it is for something like not paying child support, however, Bradley said police can enter the facility, but staff do not help with identification.

"We call the police on drug deals, if we see people driving around looking for drugs or sex," he said. "We don't want that in our neighborhood, either."

Preble Street operates under a "low-barrier" philosophy, offering services with little question. Geib said there is little security at the shelter; for example, bags are not searched. He also said staff policy toward police varies, depending on who is on duty.

Bradley, though, said Preble Street likes police to be present and many of the people who use Preble Street's services like the feeling of safety police provide.

He also said there is a relatively small group of chronic drinkers who urinate and defecate in public, but agrees it is a major issue that needs to be addressed.

In trying to get chronically inebriated people off the street, the neighborhood is asking local stores to take cheap, high alcohol-content beers off the shelves. Geib said the owner of Dyer is willing to do so, but only if the nearby Big Apple and Hannaford store do, too.

Geib said he had not heard from the Big Apple or Hannaford about whether representatives will be at the Sept. 29 meeting. 

During the three years he has been assigned to Midtown, Geib said the community policing center and neighborhood group have looked at crime data and discussed it, but this is the first time there has been movement to do something.

"Nobody wanted to face the elephant in the room," Geib said. "Then you're (perceived as) against the homeless."

But in those three years, he said, he has seen the neighborhood decline. He also said people are becoming immune to a lot of the nuisance crime and drunken behavior.

"It used to be, if someone was laid out on the sidewalk or street, people would see that and call police," Geib said. "Now they literally drive around them, and just think, 'oh, he's drunk.'"

"What if that's my day to have a heart attack on the sidewalk?" he said.

The Bayside Neighborhood Watch meeting is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m. at 24 Stone St.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net