Portland police, bar owners add text messages to Old Port crime-fighting arsenal

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PORTLAND — Just in time for warm summer nights, police and Old Port bar owners announced last week that they are launching a text-message network designed to keep each other informed about troublemakers in the city’s entertainment district.

The announcement came less than a week after 24-year-old Eric Benson died after being punched once in the head as he was walking home from the Old Port. Police arrested a 20-year-old Gray man and charged him with the crime. That man, William Googins, was reportedly out in the Old Port drinking at several bars the night of May 22, despite being under the legal drinking age.

In the early hours of May 23, Googins allegedly punched Benson in Monument Square as they were walking, separately, to apartments in the West End. Police say the men did not know each other, and the assault happened after Googins made derogatory comments toward a woman who accompanied Benson.

“A group of underage and intoxicated young men were drinking in the Old Port (and) became involved in an unprovoked attack of Eric (Benson) that in this instance resulted in a tragedy,” Police Chief James Craig said at a May 27 news conference in Monument Square. Craig declined to discuss the ongoing investigation into where Googins was served alcohol. The two men Googins was with at the time of the deadly assault are not charged with any crime.

Craig, however, said police, in cooperation with Old Port bar owners, are stepping up enforcement in the area and will have “zero tolerance” for crimes, with a focus on cracking down on operating under the influence, drinking in public, assault, public urination and fighting.

In addition to the annual summer increase in patrol officers assigned to the Old Port on weekend nights, Craig said police and participating bar owners will take part in “text-a-tip and pic.”

The chief explained that if an individual or group is causing trouble in a bar, an employee of the bar will send a mass text with a description and picture if possible. Police and other bar owners can then keep watch for the offenders.

Doug Fuss, the owner of Bull Feeney’s on Fore Street and the president of the Old Port Night Life Oversight Committee, said the texting idea came out of a meeting of bar owners.

“It had a grassroots start among those on the front lines,” Fuss said, explaining that some bouncers and bartenders are already communicating via text messages.

Craig said the text-a-tip and pic program will include bar owners along the Congress Street corridor, too. As of last weekend, more than a dozen Old Port bar owners had signed up to take part, and Fuss said he is confident all the bars will get on board.

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