Bangor police suspending bike patrols, adding foot patrols to downtown trouble spots

People gather at Pickering Square to hang out, play games or loiter in May 2012. Citizens have complained that the area can be scary at certain times of the day.
People gather at Pickering Square to hang out, play games or loiter in May 2012. Citizens have complained that the area can be scary at certain times of the day. Buy Photo
Posted July 02, 2012, at 9:47 p.m.
Last modified July 02, 2012, at 10:40 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Each summer for almost a decade, downtown residents, business people and visitors have seen members of the Bangor Police Department’s Mountain Bike Unit pedaling the city streets on the lookout for bad behavior or those in need of help.

This summer — because of manpower issues and other unforeseen factors — it doesn’t appear that the department will be able to operate the unit, Bangor police Lt. Steven Hunt told city councilors during a brief workshop Monday night.

The issues may be short term and the department hopes to put the Mountain Bike Unit back on the streets in 2013, he said.

In the meantime, other mechanisms have been put into place to beef up the neighborhood’s police presence, including assigning an officer to conduct foot patrols effective Monday — with a focus on Pickering Square and the “downtown basin,” Hunt said.

In recent months, bad behavior on the part of some people who frequent downtown and Pickering Square, where the Community Connector bus service transfer hub is located, has become a source of increasing complaints from downtown residents, merchants and customers.

They, as well as administrators and council members, have expressed concerns about foul language, public intoxication, panhandling, brawls and other less-than-ideal conduct.

Some business people 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.

Council Chairman Cary Weston noted that Monday night’s briefing was among several the council has held — and will conduct — in its effort to create an atmosphere that suits those who live and work downtown and those who visit the area for its growing number of entertainment options.

City councilors and administrators briefly discussed what it would take to relocate the bus depot but scrapped the concept earlier this month after considering the $25,000-plus cost of a study such a move would require as well as the logical problems that would have to be addressed.

Though Hunt said details are still being firmed up, he said Monday that the foot patrol is planned for 4-8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, over the summer.

In addition, he said, the department’s Special Enforcement Team already has been working in the downtown area on Thursday nights as well as a few day shifts. Hunt said other officers will be assigned to walk through downtown as staffing levels permit.

Councilor James Gallant, who has been watching the issue closely, wasn’t sure that the 4-8 p.m. time frame was when police were most needed in the neighborhood.

“We’re attracting more people downtown and we try to enforce the rules there but we’re trying to make it as pleasurable for people as we can,” said Councilor Nelson Durgin.

Councilor Geoff Gratwick wanted to know how residents could play a role in curbing unruly behavior in situations that aren’t 911-worthy emergencies.

“We want you to call whenever you see something,” Hunt said, adding that residents can call the police department’s business line or leave information on its tip line, through email or on Facebook.

Hunt said he plans to work closely with Rosie Vanadestine of the Economic and Community Development Office and George Kinghorm of the Downtown Business Partnership, which has helped fund the mountain bike unit, to discuss further concerns and possible solutions.

In another change in patrol practices, the police department has discontinued its motorcycle patrol program, largely because of the cost associated with training, certification and other considerations, Hunt said after the meeting. The department’s longtime motorcycle cop, Dan Herrick, retired earlier this year.

Hunt said the department had been leasing a Harley-Davidson for its motorcycle patrol, which was a seasonal program.

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