Portland budget makes expansion of community policing uncertain

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PORTLAND — The two things impeding an expansion of the city’s community policing program are money and staff.

This month, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck twice detailed his budget plans to city council committees about adding community police officers, but the department is not likely to have the additional funding it seeks this summer.

The primary focus of expanding community policing is Bayside, because the neighborhood takes an inordinate amount of his department’s resources, Sauschuck said.

The community police program is designed to work with neighborhood residents and agencies with civilian coordinators and officers on duty, sometimes on bicycles.

The Police Department’s initial plan is to add two officers and a sergeant to the ranks, with one officer specifically dedicated to serving at the Community Police Center at 26 Portland St. The sergeant would also supervise the summer cadet program in the Downtown District along Congress Street and in the Old Port.

The new positions would add $157,500 to the budget.

In a second tier of his plan, Sauschuck said he will pursue U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services grants for additional community officers serving East Bayside and Parkside. The COPS grants fund three years of service, with the local grant recipient committing to paying for a fourth year.

Community policing spreads throughout the city’s peninsula in six community policing centers. One is operated by the Portland Housing Authority. Almost 60 percent of the coordinators’ salaries are paid through federal funding. The program annually receives an automatic set aside in social service funding in the Consolidated Housing and Community Development Annual Action Plan.

The allocation for fiscal year 2018 is $150,000, but City Manager Jon Jennings and Mayor Ethan Strimling have noted future federal funding is uncertain. In his comments on the action plan approved this month, Strimling suggested the city should find a way to take on the federal funding.

In his memo, the chief said Bayside represents 1 percent of the city land area, has 5 percent of the city’s population, but accounted for 21 percent of all police calls in the first 10 months of 2016.

Within those calls, Bayside chalked up 34 percent of all calls about disorderly conduct, and 30 percent of arrests made. As a trend, Sauschuck said it is worsening, with calls increasing by 71 percent over the last decade.

Beat officers are assigned to the neighborhood, and the community police officer generally works there during the day.

“We didn’t make progress, we just held our own day-to-day,” Sauschuck said. “It is a very thin span of control.”

The chief added community policing is effective, but has its limits.

“For us, the answer is always going to be underlying services, we are just trying to make the neighborhood safe,” he said.

The foot patrols will continue on the peninsula, although staffing is a growing problem, he added.

“We are upside down and it is getting worse every day,” Sauschuck said. “We will do what we have done in the past, we will pull people from anyplace we can.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck details plans to expand community policing at the City Council Finance Committee meeting April 20.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck would like to add another officer to staff the Community Policing Center at 26 Portland St. in Bayside.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.