Residents of Bayside frustrated with the growing number of public disorder crimes that plague the Portland neighborhood have called on lawyers, judges, prosecutors and police to help solve the problem.

While the number of calls to police from other neighborhoods on the Portland peninsula has remained relatively flat, calls for service to the Bayside area have increased 70 percent within the last 10 years, far outstripping the number of calls in any other neighborhood police beat in that time, according to figures compiled by the Portland Police Department.

People urinating and defecating in public, drinking on street corners, openly using drugs, blocking public ways and incidents of assault, indecent exposure and criminal trespass are driving the increases, according to statistics provided by the City of Portland and described anecdotally by residents in the neighborhood, where multifamily homes stand in close proximity to the city’s homeless shelter on Oxford Street, the Preble Street Resource Center, and a handful of other agencies and organizations that provide help to the city’s most distressed population.

Isaiah Anthony, 17, sits on the steps of his Alder Street apartment building in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood on Thursday. Anthony is tired of seeing people shoot up on the stoop across from his home or smoking crack in public. Staff Photo by Gregory Rec

Isaiah Anthony, 17, who grew up in Bayside and lives now on Alder Street, is tired of seeing people shooting up on the stoop across from his home, or smoking crack in public.

“The drug use has got to stop,” Anthony said. “The alcohol is not that bad, everybody drinks. But I don’t want my little cousins seeing that. I think they should fix up the streets, redo some houses, put up some cameras. I don’t know.”

In one recent incident reported on the city’s online Fix-It portal, in which people can make anonymous complaints about things they want to see fixed in the city, someone reported having a used needle thrown at them by another person who apparently injected drugs and screamed obscenities before throwing the needle. The police responded to the complaint online Friday, apologizing that the confrontation occurred and promising to do their best to increase patrols there.

Steve Hirshon, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, said his group reached out to the district attorney’s office through Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman, who met with members last week.

The disorder problems are especially difficult, Hirshon said, because the crimes that are most bothersome to residents are also relatively low priorities for police and prosecutors compared to more serious crimes, and offenders typically receive short jail sentences or low-level fines.

“If it’s not something you see with your own eyes every day or have to experience, it’s, ‘OK, time served,’ or, ‘OK, the state recommends 14 days, but 72 hours time served.’ It’s just getting this out of the way,” Hirshon said. “The impacts are really serious. Whether it’s at a shelter or a day room, we need to change that vibe in the neighborhood. Up until the past couple of years, no one took that very seriously. People are starting to see that what we said has some merit.”

To begin to address the concerns, Ackerman said she called a meeting of judges, defense attorneys, a city council member and police to attend a brief walking tour of the neighborhood on Aug. 2, an unusual move in the course of the court’s business. Judges hear criminal cases and decide them individually on their merits, and don’t usually examine a geographic area’s problems en masse.

“I think the tour gives you a better understanding of some of the issues that exist on the ground there,” said Justice Roland Cole, the chief of superior court in Maine, one of five judges who toured the area.

“Not that you’re using that to determine the facts of any criminal case, but the understanding of the population, the neighborhood, what businesses are in proximity to it, what residential units are in proximity to it. As a judge, when I’m sentencing and dealing with someone with mental health issues, substance abuse issues, we’re always looking for creative solutions.”

Between 2006 and 2016, the number of calls for service in Bayside leapt from 8,131 to 13,844, according to data provided by the police department. While Bayside accounts for only 1 percent of the city’s land mass and 5 percent of its population, the neighborhood accounted for 21 percent of all police calls and 30 percent of the arrests through the first 10 months of 2016, data shows.

In response, police officials have directed more officers to patrol the densely populated neighborhood over the last two summers. The surge of police attention has helped push arrests up and provide a marginal improvement for residents in their perception of safety, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said.

“We’re essentially trying to make people feel safe day to day, and do what we can to really hold the line, while we’re working with others on those more long-term solutions,” Sauschuck said in a recent interview.

But in an April memo accompanying his budget request, Sauschuck wrote that reversing decades of disorder and deferred maintenance by the city will require a sustained and concerted effort.

“A stronger, long-term community policing-based effort, accompanied by additional city initiatives to address the root cause of problems in Bayside, is necessary to facilitate a cultural shift and effect a sustained improvement in the quality of life of all residents,” Sauschuck wrote.

This year, the city council approved funding for three additional full-time police officers to patrol Bayside and support the lone beat cop now assigned there.

But the police department – which is struggling to hire officers fast enough to fill vacancies, currently there are 12 – does not know yet when those positions will be assigned full-time to the neighborhood.

In the meantime, neighborhood advocates said, the public disorder crimes are still a priority for them when they talk to local authorities.

Andrew Edwards, a Portland defense attorney who frequently serves as lawyer of the day – a designated attorney who is paid by the court to represent people during arraignments and first appearances – said he frequently handles clients who have been arrested in Bayside, and attended the tour of the neighborhood. He said the walk-around illustrated the need for more resources to help people who are homeless, drug-addicted or mentally ill, and living on Portland’s streets.

“I think it is a statewide issue,” Edwards said. “We don’t interact with this particular population on a daily basis like the shelter staff do or the caseworkers, but we see people over and over again, repetitively (in the court system). I would really like to see the city give more resources to the shelter, and the state. Portland is bearing a lot of weight.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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