August 22, 2010

Latest buzz in the Old Port? It's safer this summer

Beefed-up security, better weather and the memory of a May tragedy help take the fight out of the night.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Matt Wickenheiser mwickenheiser@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

Though the night of Friday, Aug. 13, was uncommonly quiet in Portland's Old Port, closing time still resulted in a flood of young people on Wharf Street. This was the scene at about 1:15 a.m., a half-hour after last call.

Matt Wickenheiser photo

click image to enlarge

Oasis doorman Zack Swander, right, checks IDs at about 11 p.m. on the night of Friday, Aug. 13. Oasis and 51 Wharf are using ID scanners that flag any patrons who have previously caused problems at the bars.

Matt Wickenheiser photo

As for the reduction in police calls, Kiladjian said the hotel has called less often about noise complaints, because nothing was ever done. That may have affected the statistics, he said.

ZERO TOLERANCE PAYING OFF

Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District, said she's heard the Old Port has been relatively calm, and she was happy to see that statistics reflect that.

Much of the credit, she said, should go to the police department's approach to the area. They're prosecuting more quality-of-life crimes, she said, such as charging people with urinating in public. And while people in minor scuffles may have been let off with a warning previously, they're now being charged, Beitzer said.

"It's those small crimes that escalate," she said.

Those efforts and the number of officers working in the Old Port has helped keep crime down, Malloch said. The department normally increases staff in the area during busy periods, such as the summer. Because the crowds have been smaller, the increased police presence can have a greater impact.

"We have the same number of officers (as last summer) with fewer crowds, so we can focus on the few problem individuals," Malloch said. "It takes the atmosphere of lawlessness away and replaces it with some semblance of public order."

Doherty, the sergeant, noted that the zero-tolerance policy has been working to prevent trouble. If someone is caught with a false ID, the bouncer doesn't just take it -- he calls police, who issue the person a summons for giving false written information.

If someone is charged with a crime in the Old Port, they're barred from the Old Port through bail conditions. Malloch said officers ask for that restriction each time they make an arrest connected to the Old Port nightlife, and bail commissioners generally agree.

White said the police presence is just right -- enough officers to be visible, allowing patrons to feel secure, but not so many that people worry the area is unsafe.

ASSESSING THE STATISTICS

Public order crimes generally dropped from last year, though not in all categories.

There were three aggravated assaults -- attacks when a weapon was used or the injuries were severe -- compared with two last year.

Misdemeanor assaults stayed the same at 12. Criminal trespasses climbed from six to 12, and there were five robberies compared with just one last summer. The last statistic reflects a national and statewide increase in robberies, Malloch said.

Criminal mischief reports dropped from 17 to nine, disorderly conduct from 12 reports to five, and obstructing government administration from two reports to none.

The number of casualty reports, when somebody has been injured or is found unconscious, dropped from 17 to eight.

"There are a lot of things going on," Malloch said. "We can speculate but it's difficult to say for sure if it's any one thing or a combination of all of them."

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

dhench@pressherald.com

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com.

 

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