PORTLAND — Concerned about a perceived rise in crime, the West End Neighborhood Association is collecting signatures to petition city and school leaders to increase the visibility of the Community Policing Center.
It is an effort the district’s city councilor, David Marshall, said he finds surprising.
The petition being circulated throughout the West End calls on city leaders to put the West End Community Policing Station at the Reiche Community Center, at 166 Brackett St., by Nov. 15. If that site is not feasible, residents want it located in another, more visible location nearby by Dec. 1.
The policing station is currently housed in Harbor Terrace, a group housing complex at 284 Danforth St. operated by the Portland Housing Authority. It was moved there from a location on Danforth Street several years ago as a cost-cutting measure. City Hall could not immediately say how much the move saved, only that it was significant.
Residents and city officials agree that Harbor Terrace is not an ideal location, because the public cannot easily access the building. Those seeking entry must call the front desk and be buzzed in.
WENA Vice President Jo Coyne said the petition drive is intended to push city leaders to move more quickly to address the neighborhood’s concerns, stemming from several armed robberies, motor vehicle burglaries and other crimes that have taken place since spring. Residents said they are also concerned about large groups of young people hanging out at night and, in some case, gambling on the community center’s loading docks.
“One resident who described it said it almost appears to be gang-related activity,” Coyne said.
In recent months, WENA has rolled out several initiatives in an effort to make neighborhood streets safer. Those initiatives include a Neighborhood Crime Watch, Adopt-A-Block clean-up program and WE CAN Leave the Lights On, an effort to install lights with timers at the Reiche basketball court.
But Coyne said residents are convinced that having a highly visible community policing station is vital to reducing crime and argue that the Reiche Community Center is the ideal location, because it is in the center of the neighborhood, where much of the criminal activity is located.
West End residents have been lobbying city officials since May to relocate the community policing center. After holding several meetings with the city, Coyne said residents grew frustrated by the city’s opposition to the Reiche proposal and what they perceive to be the city’s failure to actively pursue alternatives.
City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said that there is no space available at Reiche and even if there was, it may not be a compatible use because it is connected to Reiche Elementary School. Other nearby locations are being actively sought, she said.
“The intent is to work with the community to find a better location,” Clegg said.
City Councilor David Marshall, who represents the West End, said he is surprised by the petition effort, especially since city officials have been in discussion with the University of Maine’s architecture division about conducting a space audit of Reiche being sought by neighbors. The city is also pursuing other, more visible sites for the police station, including the former Spring Street Variety store.
“I’m still somewhat surprised by the petition,” Marshall said. “Usually a petition of government is done when people have grievances. In this case, where the city is trying to work with the residents, I’m not sure where the grievance is.”
An underlying issue, however, appears to be the neighborhood’s effort to reclaim the Reiche Community Center as a neighborhood asset. Some space in the center is currently being used as a music room for the elementary school.
“Part of our effort as a community association is to revitalize the community center,” Coyne said. “This is a part of it.”