PORTLAND – The Police Department wants members of the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to know that its door is always open if they need to report a crime or have concerns about their safety.

The department held its third forum since June with members of that community Thursday night at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.

Police Chief James Craig said the forums are a way to keep the lines of communication open between police and residents who may be reluctant to approach authorities.

When he took over as police chief in 2009, Craig said, he was told that the gay and lesbian community was under-reporting hate crimes. Craig said that is unacceptable.

“If we don’t build relationships and open a dialogue, then we will never know what is happening out there,” said Craig, who vowed to hold more forums.

About 50 members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, as well as several hearing-impaired people, attended the meeting at the Abromson Community Education Center.

They were joined by Craig; Assistant Police Chief Mike Sauschuck; Lt. Janine Roberts; several lead officers; Coreena Behnke, Portland High School’s resource officer; and Alissa Poisson, a Portland police officer who said she is a member of the gay and lesbian community.

Craig and his staff encouraged those at the forum to report hate crimes and not to hesitate to bring issues regarding personal safety to their attention.

“I always want people to know they have someone to go to,” said Poisson, who marched in uniform in Portland’s Gay Pride Parade in June.

Dave Nadeau, who helped organize the parade, commended Craig and his officers for participating. Nadeau said he grew up in Caribou and had to hide his sexual orientation. He moved to Portland in 1998 and found the environment far more welcoming.

“I can’t tell you what it meant to have Portland police officers in our parade last year. It brought tears to my eyes,” he said.

Several members of Portland’s deaf community, who communicated through an interpreter, voiced their concerns, saying that they have encountered resistance in reporting crimes to police.

Craig said that will change under his watch. He promised to meet with the deaf community in the future to discuss their concerns. Members of his staff said they will hire interpreters if necessary and work with other police departments if a deaf person is victimized in another city or town.

Craig, whose previous job was with the Los Angeles Police Department, said about 40 percent of that city’s population is Hispanic, and many of those people are living in the country illegally.

“They weren’t reporting crimes because of the fear of being arrested,” Craig said. Craig said he doesn’t want to drive any of Portland’s communities underground, fearing repercussions. “This forum is an opportunity to lower those barriers and build relationships,” he said.

“Portland does it right,” said Craig, who is African-American. “I’ve been welcomed by everyone here. I look at Portland as a very warm and welcoming community, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have more work to do.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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