PORTLAND — There is no typical day for a downtown cadet, the Police Department interns charged with maintaining the city’s reputation as safe, clean and welcoming.
The cadets work the core downtown area of the city five days a week from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, assisting the regular police patrols with making sure that all of the city’s nuisance laws are being followed.
That means ensuring no one is smoking or drinking in public parks, making sure panhandlers aren’t hassling passersby, encouraging loiterers to move along and, most importantly, interacting with local business owners and visitors.
The Downtown Cadet program is a collaboration between Portland Downtown, a nonprofit dedicated to business improvement issues, and the police.
The cadets are sworn in as constables and can issue citations and warnings, but their main goal is to develop relationships with business owners, residents and visitors, as well as providing assistance to the homeless population when they can.
The cadets work full time, often walking more than 7 miles a day, and sometimes as much as 10, patrolling the city from Longfellow Square to Franklin Street and Cumberland Avenue down to Commercial Street.
That area encompasses about 1,500 businesses, as well as residences and other commercial buildings and includes 14.5 miles of sidewalk, according to Amy Geren, the downtown experience liaison for Portland Downtown.
Portland Downtown pays the salaries for the cadets, but also receives funding from the police department to support the program. The cadets report to the department each morning and are overseen by the officer of the day.
They take notes throughout the day of comments made to them by business owners or others who might be experiencing problems or who have questions, and report those issues back to their supervisors.
For instance, last week cadets Kyle McIlwaine, 23, and Dakota Farris, 19, were stopped in Monument Square by a business owner who was concerned about people sitting outside his location all day asking customers going in to buy liquor for them.
McIlwaine and Farris both want to become police officers, and McIlwaine will join the Police Department once he finishes a required course at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy this coming spring.
McIlwaine has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bob Jones University in South Carolina and, prior to joining the Downtown Cadet corps, was working as a case manager for Maine Pretrial Services.
This is Farris’ second summer working as a downtown cadet. He plans on pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering and someday opening his own business, but first he wants to be a Portland police officer like his dad.
Geren said the four downtown cadets work in pairs of two while out on patrol and their overall mission is “just to make their presence felt.”
What both Farris and McIlwaine say what they like most about the job is that there’s no knowing what the day will bring. “We’re always here, there and everywhere,” McIlwaine said.
What the two also like about the job, they said, is visiting the city’s six community policing centers and playing with the local kids. One day it might be a pick up game of basketball, on another they might be filling backpacks with back-to-school supplies.
Overall, Farris said, “It’s great to get the hands-on experience” of being on the front lines. The cadets are also learning valuable skills from tagging evidence to writing reports, he said.
“I’m finding it to be a really great experience,” McIlwaine added. “It’s fun and exciting.”
He said the job is mostly about “addressing quality of life issues” and checking in with business owners and street vendors to make sure everything is going well.
McIlwaine said he and Farris often also do a lot of checking on the homeless to make sure they’re hydrated and feeling OK. “We’re really here to help. It’s all about relationship building,” he added.
Hot spots include the areas around the main branch of the Portland Public Library and Portland High School, Monument Square, Exchange Street, Bell Buoy Park and other places, such as Lincoln Park.
While summer is definitely the high season, the fall is often also very busy with cruise ships stopping in Portland almost daily and tour groups coming through as well, which is why the cadets stay on through Columbus Day in October.
On their way from Monument Square down to Exchange Street on Aug. 24, Farris and McIlwaine stopped to give a young boy sitting with his parents a police badge sticker and exchanged salutes with the local hot dog vendor.
On Commercial Street they stopped to talk with David Sullivan, a photographer with a street booth.
“They’re great. We love them,” Sullivan said of the cadets. “They’re friendly and they keep an eye out for us. They’re really nice representatives of the city.”
While making their way along Commercial Street to Bell Buoy Park last week, Farris and McIlwaine were also stopped by Seaman Apprentice Koren Foster, who was in town as part of Navy Week.
She serves on the U.S.S. Constitution and thanked the cadets for their service, while inviting them to visit some of the special events the Navy was offering, including a chance to drive a bomb disposal robot.
At Bell Buoy Park, McIlwaine spoke with a homeless veteran who was smoking and Farris spoke with Jacob Bouchard, who operates the Vagabond Coffee cart.
Bouchard had an issue with vandalism and asked Farris if he could keep an eye out for one particular person that Bouchard suspected of causing the trouble.
Bouchard said the cadets are appreciated.
“It’s just nice to have more eyes and more people available to deal with the non-emergency type issues” that come up, he said.
Downtown Cadets Dakota Farris, center, and Kyle McIlwaine, right, speak with Seaman Apprentice Koren Foster on Commercial Street in Portland Aug. 24. Foster, who serves on the U.S.S. Constitution, was in the city for Navy Week.
Downtown Cadets Dakota Farris, left, and Kyle McIlwaine, help keep an eye on Portland’s core district, looking out for nuisance behavior and building relationships with business owners.