A homeless person finds shelter in an entrance to a vacant building Feb. 23 in downtown Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON – Lewiston “can’t arrest our way out” of the homelessness crisis, Police Chief David St. Pierre told the City Council on Tuesday.

St. Pierre was at Tuesday’s meeting to update the council on the department’s approach to handling homelessness and other “quality-of-life” issues.

The department recently launched its Neighborhoods First initiative, which St. Pierre said allows the department to “rapidly respond to highly visible, minor misbehaviors that if not handled as they occur could mushroom into larger issues.”

This is part of a “proactive” approach where LPD handles an issue before a citizen needs to report them, the chief said.

“I mean, our officers are basically call-to-call. So, our patrol officers generally are very busy with calls so sometimes we can’t take that proactive approach,” St. Pierre said in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

Now that the department is 95% fully staffed, St. Pierre said they finally have some breathing room in their schedule where there can be some officers who do not need to be answering regular calls. These officers can be out on foot patrols, for instance, where they can get to know the community better and vice versa, he said.


The department also has a homelessness crisis protocol that went into effect one year ago. A bill adopted into state law in July 2021 required that all law enforcement agencies draft their own protocols by March 2022.

According to St. Pierre, Lewiston’s protocol “says in part that those who commit low level quality-of-life offenses are in need of services rather than the traditional entry into the judicial system.”

These offenses include criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct, indecent conduct, possession of scheduled drugs and public drinking.

Under this protocol, if the responding officer determines the individual committing the offense is homeless, they are required to initiate “alternative action responses.” This could include connecting the individual with staff from Project Support You, a joint initiative between the department and Tri-County Mental Health Services, or with the local liaison for OPTIONS, the statewide overdose prevention program.

In response to a question from Councilor Rick LaChapelle about how the department handles encampments, St. Pierre said, “to us, it’s important to not just move them along but to help them … rebuild their lives, if you will, and find the necessary resources that they need.”

He added that the protocol does allow an officer to use their discretion in responding to a situation on whether an arrest or citation is warranted.

“I think that’s encouraged because not everything deserves an arrest. Not everything needs to end in an arrest situation,” St. Pierre said.

“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” he said. “But if we do get to that point that we need to arrest somebody, it’s still important for us to provide a resource and offer them the help that they need.”

Comments are not available on this story.