Portland police met with about two dozen residents in East Bayside on Thursday after receiving a rash of complaints about fireworks being set off in the neighborhood, including instances where fireworks were aimed at buildings, people and vehicles.

The outdoor meeting was held at the corner of Fox and Anderson streets, and included Chief Frank Clark and other members of the police department, along with Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck. The meeting included members of the East Bay Side Neighborhood Organization.

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark said “we want to respond in a measured way” to people who set off fireworks, in violation of a city ordinance. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Clark said the department has received complaints in the past week about people setting off fireworks in the neighborhood, and added that a police cruiser was struck at least once by a mortar, causing a dent and burn mark.

In another case that residents reported, a firework started a small fire on a rooftop, but a resident extinguished the flames with a garden hose before they could spread, Clark said. In response, the chief said he’s planning extra patrols in the area, but also he was cognizant of concerns that added police presence may escalate the situation.

Compared to last year, complaints of fireworks were up in June, according to Portland police. Complaints have been centered on North Street, Eben Hill Drive and Riverton Drive, said police Lt. Robert Martin, with other calls scattered across the city.

In June 2019, Martin said there were 36 fireworks-related calls. This year in the same month, there were 99 calls, but he said it was unclear from the data if those counts also included South Portland, whose calls are dispatched from the Portland Police Department.

Clark said the people setting them off appear to be teenagers or folks in the 20s or 30s, and that the complaints have ramped up since last Thursday. Clark acknowledged that there has been tension between some residents and the police following the week of demonstrations in late May and early June following the death of George Floyd, and he will direct officers to respond this holiday weekend in a “measured way,” he said.

Although some fireworks are legal in Maine, it is against city ordinance to set them off in Portland and punishable by a $200 fine, but Clark acknowledged that this weekend and on the Fourth of July, he expects some people to break that law.

“Obviously we ask that people don’t do it, but acknowledging it’s going to happen, we want to respond in a measured way,” he said. “We’re asking for people to take some personal responsibility. Do not target people, vehicles or each other.”

Clark added later: “What we don’t want to do is elevate things based on our (police) presence.”

Jonathan Culley, who owns Redfern Properties and developed the building of market-rate apartments at the corner of Fox and Anderson streets, was among the attendees concerned about the uptick. He pointed to a window of the ground-floor tenant, the Middle Eastern restaurant Baharat, which showed white, star-shaped singe marks.

“It’s going on all over the country,” Culley said, and referred to a spike in fireworks complaints experienced in New York City, Boston, San Francisco and in other major cities, where traditional large, Fourth of July celebrations have been canceled this year because of the pandemic.

“We’re trying to work with the police to nip this in the bud before someone gets hurt,” Culley said.

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