PORTLAND — Nearly half of the bars in the Old Port have embraced Police Chief James Craig’s plan to tame rowdiness by using text messaging. Some owners say the vast majority of bars will eventually join the effort.

Craig’s strategy takes effect this weekend.

It works like this: When a bartender or a doorman encounters an unruly patron, they will use a cell phone to send a text message to other participating bars and to police officers on patrol in the district. Participants can also transmit photos.

There will be a designated phone number for all participants to use.

Craig said he’s not aware of any other city in the country that has taken such an approach to alcohol-related problems.

The idea, he said, is borrowed from Las Vegas, where casinos share information about cheating gamblers.

Bar owners who plan to participate in the program said Thursday that improving safety is simply good business. “If people don’t feel safe, they won’t come down,” said Bob Waitkevitch, owner of the Fore Play Sports Pub on Fore Street.

Jeff Nappi, a bartender at the pub, said someone who is angry but not obviously intoxicated can often slip past a doorman at one bar after being kicked out of another.

With Portland’s new program, he said, he’ll be able to alert other bars about someone who appears to be looking for a fight.

“Things escalate so fast when people are drinking,” he said. “It’s good to nip it in the bud real quick.”

On weekend nights, the pub’s 13 bartenders and security workers use cell phones to communicate with each other, he said.

Jeff Grundy, a bartender at nearby Bull Feeney’s, said the texting program will be a big help for preventing violence.

“It would be nice to get a heads-up that someone was causing trouble somewhere,” he said. “We could stop them before they walk in.”

The number of participating bars grew from eight to 13 this week. There are 30 bars in the Old Port. Doug Fuss, owner of Bull Feeney’s, said he expects more than 20 will join in the program.

Craig announced the plan during a news conference Thursday in Monument Square, where a Westbrook man suffered a fatal head injury in a confrontation before dawn Sunday.

William Googins, 20, of Gray is charged with manslaughter in the death of Eric Benson, 24. Some of Benson’s friends and family members stood behind Craig during the news conference.

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

Craig said his department will have a “zero tolerance” policy for all crimes in the Old Port, particularly drunken driving, public urination, assault and disorderly conduct, which includes fighting.

“Our message to those who visit the Old Port and the surrounding area to engage in fighting: You will be arrested and charged,” Craig said.

This weekend, Craig said, police will also roll out newly purchased hand-held devices that allow police to scan fingerprints in the field so prints can be compared immediately with prints in a national database.

The texting idea, which police are calling the “Text-a-tip and pic” strategy, was developed about three weeks ago, during an annual pre-summer meeting attended by police, bar owners and their staffs, said Fuss.

He said staff members of several bars in the Old Port were already cooperating by calling each other. Some bar owners and police had planned to start using cell phone texting this summer.

Fuss said the new initiative expands the effort to the entire Old Port. The use of a single phone number is also new, he said.

He said organizers are using last weekend’s violent incident to encourage more bars to participate. 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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