PORTLAND — Through the windows of his shop in the Old Port, Bard Coffee co-owner Jeremy Pelkey has a front-row view of drug deals and fistfights.
It all happens, he says, in adjacent Tommy’s Park.

Pelkey and other business and property owners in the Old Port say they saw an alarming increase in crime, homelessness and general indecency in Tommy’s Park and nearby Post Office Park this summer. Those observations are reflected in police records.

Police received 162 service calls related to the two parks from Jan. 1 to Sept. 25 – the most recent time the records were tallied – compared with 87 calls during the same period in 2010.

The number of crimes in the parks during that period increased from 17 in 2010 to 28 in 2011. The crimes included theft, assault, trespassing, harassment, indecent exposure and drug possession.

The business community has discussed the issue with police, who say they have stepped up patrols in response to complaints.

Business and property owners met Thursday morning with staffers from Portland’s Downtown District to begin developing an improvement plan.

“It scares the customers. The people (walking) the streets, and those who work in this area, were afraid to go into the park (this summer),” said Allan Labos, owner of Akari, a clothing, cosmetics and beauty center on Middle Street.

Pelkey said he has seen customers scared to leave the safety of his shop.

The business community has complained of fighting, open drug use, noise, aggressive panhandling, shirtless men and topless women.

June Usher, manager of Bangor Savings Bank’s nearby Middle Street branch, said she has seen more crime and homelessness in Tommy’s Park since the branch opened in July 2010.

“It would be nice to see the park restored so that people in the business district and families can enjoy it,” Usher said in an email.

Mark Gatti, who has sold hot dogs from a stand at Tommy’s Park for 28 years, said the park has long been a hangout for young people, particularly from June to September.

He said the crowds were unusually rowdy this year.

“It has gotten worse. More people aren’t working and are idle,” he said.

Business owners also complain that the parks are often littered with trash. They say much of the grass is dead, and stickers and fliers cover lampposts and street signs.

“The solution is to clean the park and the downtown, and to have a law presence so things get nipped in the bud,” said Labos. “We don’t mind paying taxes, but we want something out of it.”

Pelkey, at Bard Coffee, said he added locks to Bard’s bathroom doors after finding hypodermic needles and alcohol bottles in the bathroom trash. He said people from the park bathed with water from the bathroom sink this summer.

“It’s become a park we’re not proud of,” he said.

At Thursday’s meeting, the group discussed pursuing panhandling and anti-smoking ordinances and creating a “Friends of the Park” sponsorship program, said Portland’s Downtown District Executive Director Janis Beitzer.

Labos thinks the organization has been slow to address a growing problem.

“The Portland Downtown District has been more focused on events than on keeping Portland clean and safe,” said Labos, who advocates an improvement plan that brings together ideas from businesses, government and social services agencies.

Michael Sauschuck, Portland’s acting police chief, said his department increased patrols in the parks this year in response to complaints.

He said many of the calls for service in the parks came from police themselves as a result of additional patrolling.

From the public, the department received only 15 more calls for service at the two parks from Jan. 1 to Sept. 25 of 2011 than it did last year.

“Based on the numbers, I don’t think it’s been a drastic increase,” Sauschuck said. “We will continue to provide special attention (to the area). (The) tactic that works is to have officers on foot in the area, working with people and businesses.”

Sauschuck said patrol teams and crime reduction officers periodically patrol on foot, and officers patrol on foot at night from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Police also mount bike patrols, and teenage observers walk the streets during the summer through the department’s young cadet program.

Business owners say more foot patrols are needed.

“I don’t see anything that a walking police presence can’t take care of,” said Jay Villani, owner of Sonny’s Restaurant on Exchange Street. “Simple solutions to long-term problems are in order.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com