PORTLAND — Police Chief James Craig plans to announce a new strategy today for taming rowdiness in the Old Port, a problem that he concedes has affected the city for years.

Doormen and bartenders are being asked to use cell phone texts to alert other bars and police when they encounter anyone who is unruly or drunk.

“It’s not just an Old Port issue. When Portlanders can’t go out in the Old Port after 10 p.m. because of the level of violence, it’s a Portland problem,” Craig said.

The chief will announce his department’s summertime strategy for the Old Port this afternoon in Monument Square, where a Westbrook man was killed in a confrontation before dawn Sunday.

William Googins, 20, of Gray is charged with manslaughter in the death of Eric Benson, 24. Craig said it’s not clear whether increased patrols or the new texting strategy would have made a difference in that case.

Part of the problem, he said, is a culture in which young men come to the Old Port to get drunk, sometimes with the express intent of fighting.

“These fights and public disturbances have gone on for years,” Craig said. “This single suspect can’t be blamed for the history of violence in the Old Port.”

Craig said that in the year he has been in Portland, he has been startled by the level of drunken violence that can affect the Old Port.

He met with about 60 bar owners and staff members three weeks ago to discuss ways to reduce the violence. Craig said he was pleased with the cooperation of downtown businesses, and said a safe Old Port is in everyone’s best interest.

Identifying problems early could prevent brawls, he said.

Portland police will start enhanced Old Port patrols this weekend, coinciding with the traditional Memorial Day start to summer.
Craig said the department will increase the number of foot patrols through the Old Port, particularly when bars are closing for the night.

Recently, a former bar owner suggested that Portland take a page from Las Vegas, where casinos share video of cheating gamblers.

Craig said it would be helpful if door personnel who encounter people who are unruly or underage would snap pictures to distribute to the bar network.

Also, when a person is banned from one bar, he or she should be banned from all Old Port bars, Craig said.

Another strategy that police may adopt is to seek bail conditions prohibiting anyone who is arrested for fighting in the Old Port from going back there.

Craig said he has no tolerance for bars that overserve or fail to check identification, and no tolerance for violence in the Old Port.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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