BANGOR, Maine — Downtown merchants are happy Bangor police officers have their feet planted more firmly on the ground these days.
After an absence of nearly two decades, Bangor police officers resumed regular foot patrols in downtown Bangor two months ago.
“It was discontinued in the 1990s,” said Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards. “We brought it back this summer. Overall, the response has been great from merchants and those who visit downtown.”
Bangor continues to adjust and contour its patrol plan, most recently varying the hours of patrols and incorporating more weekday patrol time, rather than concentrating just on weekends and evenings.
“The patrol plan was modified a week ago to be more sporadic with the hours,” said Edwards. “It’s some tweaking of the hours. I believe before it was sometimes during the day, but mostly after 4 and mostly on weekends.”
The reintroduction of foot patrols — especially on the heels of the discontinuation of the downtown police bicycle patrol this year — has been met with great support from most local merchants.
“I’m a huge fan. I can tell it gave my employees [at Antiques Marketplace and Cafe] a more secure feeling. I can see it,” said Paul Cook, owner of Maine Real Estate Management and landlord of the Coe Building downtown. “I like it better than the bike patrol, honestly. I think there’s more of a permanence to it. It’s kind of a throwback way for police to reconnect and do business.”
Cook was one of several downtown business owners victimized by a monthlong rash of burglaries that occurred from June into July. A suspect in the burglaries — Jonathan Matute, 18, of Bangor — has been in custody since police arrested him in Florida early in August.
Edwards said the patrol was brought back to address security as well as other concerns such as public drinking, drug dealing, panhandling and harassment of citizens by certain youths and transients.
“You can’t catch everyone or be there for every incident, but I feel those issues have been addressed as well as we can,” said Edwards.
Edwards said varying the patrol times — as well as coverage areas — should help further.
“If we stay at Pickering, they’ll go to West Market or some other spot,” he said.
Niles Parker, executive director of the Maine Discovery Museum, is cautiously optimistic now that action has been taken.
“I think this is a great first step,” Parker said. “Certainly, their visibility is obvious and I think that is definitely helpful.”
Parker, who has been strident in his complaints about the rough element that can sometimes hang out around Pickering Square, was particularly enthused about the patrol’s new varied hours.
“I think the revamped hours will be a big improvement, particularly during the day, since not all the bad behavior occurs between 4 and 8,” he said.
The patrols are scheduled through a volunteer sign-up system, under which officers are paid overtime for a shift that typically lasts four hours.
“I don’t think we have any trouble filling patrol schedules,” Edwards said. “I think we have a pool of 80-odd officers, and I don’t think there’s anyone who has said they don’t want to do it. Some actually prefer it.”
Jason McCambley, the department’s community relations officer, is one of those patrolmen.
“I like it,” McCambley said. “When I started out doing police work, it was walking a beat in Bar Harbor, and you really got to know people better in your patrol area that way.”
McCambley has done about eight to 10 foot patrol shifts — about one every couple of weeks on average. He said it gives him a chance to get outside the stuffy confines of a cruiser jam-packed with gear, gadgets, buttons and switches.
It’s also a chance to better connect on a personal level and do other tasks normally lost in the shuffle.
“I have a lot of people come up and talk to me,” McCambley said. “One of the things I try to do when on foot is write parking tickets. One time, I ticketed a car and the business owner it was in front of came out and thanked me because they’d been doing it [parking illegally] for months.”
Edwards said the foot patrols will likely continue for at least another month or two, but will be stopped once winter weather sets in and resumed in the spring.
Police officers and businessman alike agree that visibility and presence are a big part of the foot patrol’s success.
“It seems like I see them everywhere,” Cook said. “It’s amazing what one or two officers walking around can do. It seems more like there are eight of them.”