PORTLAND – A plan to eliminate the only full-time staff position at the East Bayside Community Policing Center is drawing opposition from some city councilors.

The civilian position, known as the “community policing coordinator,” is one of six in the city, but it’s the only one funded by a federal Department of Justice grant.

Community policing coordinators serve as the “civilian face” of the Portland Police Department and help city agencies and nonprofit groups work with families to tackle neighborhood problems such as graffiti and trash.

Janelle Bechard, who held the job at the East Bayside Community Policing Center at 44 Mayo St., quit last month to take another job. City officials have decided to leave the position vacant, rather than fund it with local tax dollars. The position has been funded with a $96,000, two-year federal grant that the city received in 2010.

East Bayside would be served by the Munjoy Hill community policing coordinator and a policing coordinator who works for the Portland Housing Authority, as was the case before the city got the grant, said Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

“We’d love to maintain that position,” he said, “but we understand the city as a whole has budget requirements, and to be fiscally responsible the council has to make that decision.”

City Manager Mark Rees eliminated the position in his budget proposal for 2012-13. The City Council’s Finance Committee will decide on April 25 whether to support the manager or recommend that the council fund the position with money from the general fund.

Councilor Kevin Donoghue said it’s “irrational” to eliminate the position based on its funding source rather than an analysis of its effectiveness.

Other coordinator positions, for Munjoy Hill, the West End, West Bayside and Parkside, are funded by federal Community Development Block Grant funds, Donoghue said. The Portland Housing Authority pays for a community policing coordinator to work in the city’s housing projects.

“East Bayside does not face fewer challenges than other neighborhoods that do benefit from community policing coordinators,” Donoghue said.

The neighborhood includes 176 public housing apartments, most of which are in Kennedy Park, Bayside Terrace and Bayside East.

According to police statistics, crime in East Bayside declined sharply from 2010 to 2011. Armed robberies fell by 40 percent, assaults by 48 percent and burglaries by 27 percent.

The housing projects have gotten much safer in recent years, said Mark Adelson, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority.

If the city cuts the community policing coordinator, he said, housing projects elsewhere in the city will be affected because the housing authority’s community policing coordinator will spend more time in East Bayside and less time in other housing projects.

Adelson said the city should fund the position.

“They get to know the tenants, and the kids know where they are, where they can go for help,” he said. “And the coordinators know who the parents are. … It really does work, and it has proven itself over and over again.”

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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