CHIEF WON’T GRANDSTAND

There’s not much to gain when a local police chief shoots down exaggerated rumors of crime in his city.

These stories scare the public, raise safety concerns and may result in more resources going to the police budget. Plus, it’s hard to resist an opportunity to talk tough about fighting bad guys.

But when a Los Angeles Times story mentioned competition between three rival violent drug gangs in Portland, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck didn’t take the bait.

Yes, Portland does have small neighborhood groups involved in drug traffic. Yes, the Police Department is duly concerned. But when it comes to affiliates of large national criminal organizations trading murder for murder in a battle for turf? No, says the chief.

“I do not believe we have an ongoing issue with violent criminal gangs in the city of Portland,” the chief said Tuesday.

That won’t get him the kind of headlines that would have come if he had let people believe his department is out doing battle with the Crips and the Bloods, but it gets him our admiration for being straight with the community.

It will also give the chief more credibility the next time he identifies something that really is a public safety problem.

VOTERS STAY HOME

Portland voters went to the polls Tuesday to support their schools. Well, a few Portland voters did. Very few.

The vast majority stayed home. The budget referendum election May 13 attracted only 2.8 percent of registered voters. A higher number of people voted on the Scarborough school budget the same day, even though Portland’s population is three times as big.

Some might say that the other 97.2 percent were sufficiently comfortable with the school department’s management of the $96.3 million it plans to spend over the next year that they could choose to stay home, but that is a very optimistic reading.

More likely, this annual special election that receives little media coverage and no political advertising is slipping by the attention of most voters.

This infinitesimal turnout takes away the most important characteristic of the referendum law, which is the way it reminds administrators and the school board not to overreach, knowing that whatever budget they approve will have to go back to the voters. If only 1,000 or so show it, that’s not much of a threat.

We need a change if these elections are going to be useful. One idea would be to hold them at the state’s June election when there may be more items on the ballot. Another would be requiring a minimum turnout, which would force the school district to do more to promote the vote. If those proposals aren’t practical, it’s time to question why we should bother having an election at all.

RAW MILK’S DAY IN COURT

Pasteurization of milk is usually hailed as one of the great public health policies, responsible for saving millions of lives over the last century.

But if people would rather take the risk that comes from drinking raw milk, they ought to be able to.

The dispute over raw milk (as well as cream, butter and cheese made from it) has stymied state government for the last two years. Lawmakers narrowly approved a bill that would have permitted small farmers to sell the products on their own farms and at farmers markets, but it was vetoed by Gov. LePage. Now it is a matter for the state Supreme Judicial Court.

At issue is whether the state had a right to fine farmer Dan Brown of Blue Hill for selling raw milk products from his farmstand without a license. Brown says that bringing his farm up to the standards he would need to meet to qualify for his license would put him out of business.

Raw milk advocates say that unpasteurized dairy tastes better and is better for you, although most public health scientists disagree. In that sense, the battle is reminiscent of the dispute between doctors and the people who don’t want to vaccinate their children.

There is an important difference, however. While unvaccinated children increase the chances for deadly diseases to spread, raw milk is a risk only to the drinker. People should be allowed to make their own mistakes.

Provisions for small farmers like Brown who want to sell raw-milk dairy products to customers who know the risks involved shouldn’t be a problem for the government.

There are enough real problems that need attention. If the courts can’t straighten this out, the Legislature should.