PORTLAND — The Portland Police Department is planning to launch a new crime suppression unit – one that will seek to predict when and where crimes are about to happen.

The announcement is one way the department hopes to meet its goal of reducing crime in the city by 5 percent in 2011.

Police Chief James Craig said the department missed that goal in 2010, but that he was happy with the 3-percent reduction achieved, since residents tell him they feel safer.

“All in all, I’m very excited about the work the men and women in the department are doing and the commitment level,” Craig said. “Certainly, the communities and neighborhoods of Portland should be proud.”

Craig said some of the biggest accomplishments in 2010 were programs that built relationships within the community.

Those programs include a police-youth athletic league and the Portland Police Explorers, which introduces youth to law enforcement as a potential career.

Craig said the effect of those relationships are born out in the 2010 statistics, which highlighted a “dramatic reduction” in use-of-force incidents.

“When I first got here, police officers were being attacked in certain communities,” Craig said. “Those were communities the police department didn’t have good relations with.

“When you look at last year, there was not one attack,” he added.

According to 2010 crime statistics released last week, incidents that required the use of force by police dropped by 66, from 174 incidents in 2009 to 108 incidents in 2010. In 2008, 170 incidents required the use of police force.

Consequently, the number of injuries sustained by citizens and police also dropped. Forty-four citizens were injured by police in 2010, compared to 57 in 2009 and 59 in 2008.

Meanwhile, seven officers were injured in 2010, compared to 24 in 2009 and 2008.

Craig also credited the introduction of Tasers to the drop in forcible incidents.

Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said the department has 27 Tasers. They were used 21 times in 2010, with no serious injuries reported, he said.

But the 2010 Year in Review wasn’t all good news. The city still struggles with public drunkenness, drugs and mental health calls. 

Calls for service to the Old Port (Sector 3) increased by nearly 2,000, from 9,300 to more than 11,700. Calls to Sector 5, the western part of the city, increased by about 1,300 calls, from 7,343 to 8,690.

Despite the increase in service calls, Craig said he believes the Old Port was made a safer place over the last year, attributing the increase in calls to the department’s improved relationship with business owners.

“We think the Old Port, though we showed an increase in calls for service, was quieter this year,” Craig said. “People are more apt to call you when you have that relationship.”

Mental health calls also continue increase. The department handled 856 mental health calls in 2010, compared to 821 in 2009.

Meanwhile, there were 158 suicide attempts in 2010, compared to 131 in 2009. The department was also called to 604 suicide threats last year, compared to 579 in 2009.

Craig said another major area of concern is the increase in drug-related crime and the presence of a few, seemingly unorganized gangs.

Craig said he plans on forming the new crime suppression unit to help tackle those problem.

The new unit will be made up of existing officers, who will use a variety of information to predict when and where crimes are more apt to happen.

Craig said that information will include regular analysis of when certain crimes happen, whether it be certain seasons, months, days or hours.

That information would also be paired with release records from the Cumberland County Jail. Craig said the unit plans to keep tabs on criminals who are prone to repeat their offenses.

“That unit will focus on hot spots and working those areas at those times of days where crime is likely to occur based on trends or analysis of crimes,” he said.

Otherwise, over the next year, the department will continue to work on building relationships with the community, whether it’s on the street, in the classroom or at the Long Creek Development Center in South Portland, the chief said.

“We know those are opportunities to build relationships with the youth, which has paid dividends, as evidenced by the lack of activity we’re seeing,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

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