June 23, 2018
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Bangor panel looks for solutions to problem behavior at Pickering Square

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
People gather at Pickering Square to hang out, play games or loiter on Friday, May 25, 2012. Citizens have complained that the area can be scary at certain times of the day.
By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — After discussing concerns about the behavior of some of the people who frequent Pickering Square, members of a City Council panel opted not to move the Community Connector bus system hub to another location.

Moving the hub might have required a $25,000-plus study and resulted in logistical problems for buses coming from routes throughout Bangor and its outlying partner communities, namely Brewer, Veazie, Orono, Old Town, Hampden and the University of Maine.

Instead, members of the government operations committee directed staff to come up with alternate solutions, such as ordinances that could help curb the kinds of activities that have been the source of complaints in recent months.

Some suggestions made Tuesday night by city councilors and others ranged from banning smoking, which Councilor Patricia Blanchette thought might reduce loitering, and blasting string quartet and other classical music, which Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick noted effectively drove bad elements away in some major cities.

Councilor Ben Sprague said that Bangor might try imposing fines for foul language, a tack that Middleborough, Mass., recently took.

In recent months, downtown residents, merchants and visitors have expressed concerns about foul language, public intoxication, panhandling, brawls and other less-than-ideal conduct.

Some businesspeople have told Bangor police and city officials that they have been asked to escort scared workers and customers to the parking garage, especially after the sun sets. Merchants worry that the problems in Pickering Square are driving customers away.

While many of those engaging in the problem behavior are homeless, transients or suffering from mental illness, substance abuse or both, not all of them are bus riders, Community Connector Joe McNeil said during Tuesday night’s meeting.

“We have some very good people who ride the bus,” he said, adding that city officials should not blame all the problems plaguing Pickering Square on the presence of the bus transfer hub.

Among the downtown representatives on hand for the committee’s discussion was Maine Discovery Museum Executive Director Niles Parker. One of the incidents he brought forward occurred late last summer, when police were in the children’s museum looking for a possible armed intruder.

That, Parker noted, isn’t good for business. He said some potential patrons have said they won’t visit because of the atmosphere in the parking garage and public square.

Bangor police Lt. Steve Hunt said the area is staffed as a beat but that demand for police resources has “never been higher.” He said that while annoying, some of the problem behaviors plaguing Pickering Square, such as public intoxication, aren’t against the law so there is little police can do to curb them.

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