Thursday, April 20, 2006

Police Ask Community to Get Involved in Fighting Local Crime Wave

Portland Chief of Police Tim Burton ventured into the West End on April 20th to implore local citizens to help police deal with what seems to be a growing wave of drug dealing and related crime that is afflicting the city. Burton conceded that there has been an increase in drug activity, based on an increase in the quantity and purity of drugs seized by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA), the amount of cash seized, and the growing number of burglaries and robberies in the city. He said that Portland has become the lucrative drug market that it has had the potential for becoming for some time.

At a meeting called by the police department at the Reiche School, West End Community Policing Coordinator Sarah Colton told about 30 residents that she was going to start up the Neighborhood Watch program, which had lapsed because of a lack of community participation.
West End Community Policing Officer Will Crawford said that there have been a lot of complaints recently about drug sales at several specific locations in the West End. He said that the more information the police get from citizens, the more they have to work with.

Lieutenant Tony Ward, who heads the city’s Community Policing program, said that the police were only part of the solution, and that local residents had to take ownership of the problem. He asked residents to call the police if they saw anything suspicious at 874-8574.

Parkside Community Policing Officer Dan Knight said that the Parkside neighborhood has been relatively quiet, though it still had its share of drug dealing and car break-ins. He suggested that people might keep a notebook to take down license plate numbers and other information about suspicious activities they witness. He explained the City’s Disorderly House ordinance, which has been effective in pressuring some landlords to deal with locations that have a high incidence of police activity.

Chief Burton said that some of the car break-ins were committed by teenagers, but others were the work of criminals who target specific locations, such as the Back Cove, to finance their drug habits.

The police also fielded numerous questions - about problems with people entering private property to go through trash to collect deposit bottles, about buildings overrun with drug dealers, people selling merchandise out of the backs of vehicles, graffiti, speeding - particularly on Brackett Street – as well as teens hanging out at local parks late at night.

One resident said that the public payphones outside Cumberland Farms at Pine and Brackett Street should be removed because they are a gathering spot and the source of illegal activity. She cited someone whose car was stolen while she went into the store to pay for gas.

Several residents praised the police department for its quick response to recent calls. The Chief assured them that police coverage of their neighborhood would not be affected by the need to assign extra officers to the Old Port during the summer months. He did not know how he would make best use of the manpower he had available, but he would find a way to do it without shortchanging residential neighborhoods.

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