The Portland Police Department is set to launch a new initiative next week, a seven-member crime suppression unit that will respond to trends identified by crime statistics.

The crime unit — six officers and a supervisor — will be deployed to address problems like street robberies, residential burglaries in a particular neighborhood, vehicle break-ins or street-level drug dealing, Police Chief James Craig said.

The new unit will work closely with the information gathered through the CompStat system, which tracks crime statistics searching for trends that need special attention.

“If something in the field requires a response, that crime suppression team is deployable and can respond to it,” Craig said. “It will be a very strategic effort to identify those responsible for crime and to prevent future incidents.”

The city’s crime rate is down 14 percent from a year ago, Craig said, and he believes the crime suppression unit will help the city continue that trend.

The plan has led to some reservations among officers who worry that, without increasing the size of the department, officers involved in other functions will now be spread thinner.

“It’s not that we don’t think the crime suppression unit is a good idea or could be a valuable resource, but those six officers represent pretty much one officer off each shift,” said Officer Eric Nevins, a patrolman who is president of the Portland Police Benevolent Association, which represents front line officers.

“It impacts the number of officers working the street and impacts the ability to get time off,” he said.

The number of officers who can take off at one time is limited by minimum staffing that must be maintained.

The patrol division consists of roughly 70 officers when fully staffed, though there are often vacancies while new officers are being hired or trained, and last year they responded to about 87,000 calls for service, Nevins said.

The team appears similar in function to the tactical enforcement unit that was in place until about five years ago. However, the department’s emphasis on computer-generated crime statistics in directing the unit’s deployment is new.

Also, the crime suppression unit will concentrate on violent crime while the tactical enforcement unit covered a broad range of crime from graffiti and prostitution to liquor enforcement and Old Port crowd control.

Craig’s predecessor, Tim Burton, disbanded the tactical enforcement unit to focus on drug crime by assigning more officers to neighborhood patrols.

The crime suppression unit will be part of the patrol division but Craig sees it as a blending of patrol and investigative functions. Its schedule will vary depending on its mission.

“Crime has no set hours. They will flex according to where we need them,” Craig said.

Craig said creating the team does not reduce the city’s patrol capability because the officers on the new unit are available to respond.

Also, the more effective the unit is in reducing crime, the fewer calls for service other officers will need to respond to.

Creation of the crime suppression unit does not mean the rest of the department is not focused on reducing crime, Craig said.

“This is all of our business … like community policing is not isolated to senior lead officers,” he said, referring to the officers who work as liaisons with different sections of the city.

“This doesn’t take away from lieutenants having the ability to address crime problems that are occurring on their shift,” he said.

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

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