Portland chief promises Bayside residents more access to police

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PORTLAND — Bayside residents frustrated over what they say is an increase in alcohol-fueled crimes in their neighborhood met with local law enforcement authorities and Preble Street Resource Center officials Tuesday to figure out how to curb the activity.

That behavior includes public drinking, public urinating and defecating, passing out in the street, vomiting in the street and having sex in public, said community organizer Jeff Goldman, who moderated the meeting at the Lost Coin Cafe on Portland Street.

The Bayside Neighborhood Watch committee developed a list of recommendations for the Police Department, the Cumberland County district attorney’s office, Preble Street and local sellers of alcohol. The recommendations point to changes each could make to help reduce “nuisance crimes.”

Police Chief James Craig called Tuesday’s meeting, and invited the other agencies to attend and respond to the neighborhood’s suggestions.

Among those suggestions were that police increase their presence on the streets and when regularly assigned officers Dan Knight and Karl Geib are not on duty, encourage other officers to make arrests for nuisance crimes.

Craig said that as part of his ongoing restructuring of the department, he plans to roll out a new community policing program Oct. 11. That program will place a “senior lead officer” in different neighborhoods around the city. 

“You will have a point person,” said Craig, who added that he is trying to get funding to equip those lead officers with cell phones so residents can contact them directly and immediately.

While the chief told the crowd of about 50 that his department is working hard on the issues in Bayside, he also said “you cannot, cannot arrest away a problem.”

The district attorney’s office was asked to respond to the office’s policy of not prosecuting public drinking and other nuisance crimes. 

Deputy District Attorney Megan Elam said there is no benefit to throwing chronic alcoholics in jail for two days. She said her office has also had “push back” from the courts when it prosecutes misdemeanors, such as drinking in public and obstructing public ways (passing out in the street). Judges are hesitant to throw the offenders in jail for more than a couple days, she said.

Elam also suggested that the arresting officers include more information in their reports, and that residents be more willing to give their names and make statements.

“The policy doesn’t mean the Police Department should stop doing the report,” Elam said. “We’re just not processing the paperwork for (the offenders) to get out of jail two hours later.”

District Attorney Stephanie Anderson attended the meeting, but did not join the panel and did not speak. Elam said Anderson was sick.

“Stephanie is as committed to beefing up community policing efforts as Chief Craig,” Elam said.

Portland police officers have expressed frustration with the DA’s office for not prosecuting nuisance crimes.The officers said they are filing reports and transporting people to jail and then seeing those people committing the same crimes the next day. As a result, officers aren’t always arresting the offenders.

The Police Department and representatives from Preble Street agreed that the problems are being caused by a dozen or so chronic alcoholics.

Preble Street Associate Director Jon Bradley said his organization is trying to get funding for a program that would send teams into the community that specifically target the chronic offenders.

“There are models for helping these folks,” Bradley said. He also said Portland has no treatment programs for the people responsible for the problems in Bayside.

Bradley also responded to neighborhood recommendations that his agency educate its consumers about respecting and acting appropriately in the neighborhood and working with police to identify people with warrants.

Bradley said the agency plans on stepping up its efforts within the community, having staff more visible outside the center and holding community meetings.

Because Preble Street is a “low barrier” agency, it requires its consumers to provide very little information in exchange for services. Bradley said this model prevents the agency from issuing identification cards.

“They won’t come in if we make it more restrictive,” he said, and that will mean more people will be on the streets in Bayside.

Preble Street does not assist police in identifying people with arrest warrants who use the center, unless the circumstances pose immediate concern or danger. The neighborhood requested this policy be changed, but Bradley said that as a social services agency, “we are bound by certain ethics to not share certain information.”

Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann said the agency has been working closely with police to identify people entering the neighborhood looking to buy or sell drugs or engage in prostitution. 

In response to the neighborhood’s request that Preble Street stop giving take away meals to people too inebriated to eat at the soup kitchen, Swann said that issue should be taken up with Wayside, the agency that provides lunch and dinner services.

The take-away containers add to the litter problem on Oxford Street and the vomiting in the streets, Goldman said.

Representatives of Dyer Variety and Hannaford supermarkets also attended the meeting and discussed the suggestion that they take high alcohol-content, cheap beers like Hurricane and Steel Reserve off their shelves.

David Dyer said he was willing to do so if other area stores do the same. He said his store has a photo list of people it refuses to sell to, although those people usually just get someone to come in and buy alcohol for them.

Hannaford representative Mike Norton said the Back Cove store refuses to sell to known drunks, but like Dyer cannot prevent people from buying alcohol for others.

Norton said Hannaford would be willing to sit down and discuss removing some beverages from the store.

“We could at least consider it,” he said. “But it needs to be a very comprehensive plan.”

Craig said he was encouraged by the meeting, and suggested a follow-up be scheduled. The neighborhood watch group is expected to discuss what the various agency representatives said at its next meeting.

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