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ORONO, Maine — Kathy Pollard remembers when her neighborhood along Park Street near the University of Maine campus was a relatively peaceful place to live. That was before a large apartment complex populated primarily by students opened near her house eight months ago.
“The whole ambience of this area has changed … from what was a very reasonably quiet area to a zoo,” Pollard said Thursday at her home. “That’s the way it feels. It feels like we’re part of a zoo.”
Multiple police agencies were called to The Grove apartments on Wednesday for the third time in less than a week to respond to disorderly conduct caused by a large crowd. Town officials are considering ordinances to address the situation, they said.
Orono police Sgt. Scott Lajoie said a crowd of roughly 300 people gathered at The Grove on Wednesday evening. Police officers from Orono, Bangor, Old Town, Veazie and the University of Maine responded, as well as the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department, Maine State Police and the Orono Fire Department.
“Lots of drinking, hooting and hollering, people who didn’t want to leave and having a good time,” Lajoie said on Thursday. “Apparently the staff was trying to move along the crowd from the pool area and [they] didn’t want to go.”
Lajoie said police responded similarly to a 150-person crowd last Friday and a more than 300-person crowd on Saturday.
The warm weather and classes ending at the University of Maine have been factors in the recent parties at the complex, which is made up of a dozen buildings with 12 apartments in each, as well as another eight four-bedroom units called “townhomes.” The entire facility has a 620-tenant capacity.
“We’ve had the problems since last fall,” he said. “Things seemed to quiet down a little bit, but of course with the warmer weather and nice conditions outside, things have seemed to start back up. Especially the pool and especially [Wednesday] where things were warm.”
The party goers have become quite rowdy recently, according to Lajoie.
“We’re starting to get a lot more pushback from the students,” he said. “Things that they’re saying and chanting — ‘Hell no, we won’t go.’ Beer bottles being thrown at officers, those type of things.”
Pollard said the parties last well into the night, with people walking by her house at 3 or 4 a.m.
“They’re still out walking down the street screaming and hollering, etc.,” said Pollard. “Last week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday were all quite bad.”
“The events that have been happening at The Grove are deeply troubling,” Orono Town Manager Sophie Wilson said Thursday.
Jason Chuboda, spokesman for Campus Crest Community Inc., the parent company of The Grove, said the onsite security team has worked closely with police to help disperse the large crowds.
“The safety and security of our residents is our top priority. Any individual who compromises the safety of The Grove community will not be tolerated,” Chuboda said in an email Thursday. “As a precautionary measure, we have retained the local police department to patrol the property during the hours of 12 [midnight] to 3 a.m. over the next few days. This is an added measure to complement the private security team we employ on the weekends.”
Orono’s town council met on Wednesday evening and discussed ways to help combat the issues at The Grove.
“We gave the council an update on the large disorderly events that police have been responding to,” said Wilson. “They talked about what resources we had available to us and the council brainstormed some ideas. We talked about town ordinances and what may or may not be relevant for these circumstances.”
Lajoie said his department has not made an arrest or given a summons in the last three responses to The Grove because of safety concerns.
“Unfortunately, it becomes a safety and manpower issue,” he said. “Say you have 20 officers trying to clear out a group of 300 that are being disorderly and chanting and throwing beer bottles at you. You’re looking out for your safety and everyone else’s safety rather than trying to find violations and make arrests. The biggest goal is to disperse the crowd and move everybody along.”
Lajoie said officers give a two-minute warning for the crowd to disperse. After two minutes are up, the officers line up side by side and march toward the crowd. Nobody was hurt at the three parties, he said.
However, the police department’s patience is wearing thin, he said.
“[We’re] getting very tired of it,” said Lajoie. “We’re absorbing a lot of overtime lately. Obviously, it takes time away from family, friends and other activities for officers. It also takes away from us covering the rest of the town. The Grove is one small part of the town of Orono. If all of our resources are tied up there, we’re not able to adequately protect and serve the rest of the town of Orono, which isn’t fair to the rest of the people who live here.”
Pollard said she is constantly awakened at night when the parties happen. It hasn’t always been that way.
“It’s always been very normal and very reasonably quiet and a good place to live,” said Pollard. “Having The Grove here is destroying that to the extent we don’t get sleep here for nights and nights and nights on end because of the level of disturbance.”
Contributing to the disturbances is the fact that police can’t regularly patrol the area like other roads because The Grove is on private property.
“We’re trying to be as proactive as we can. However, with it being private property, we do have to work with the property owners. That’s our biggest challenge,” said Lajoie.
Lajoie said most of the residents in The Grove are cooperative and appreciate when police break up the parties.
“As usual, it’s 10 percent of the people who cause 90 percent of the problem,” he said. “There are plenty of good people who live up in The Grove. Unfortunately, it’s the few rabble rousers that cause the problem for everyone.”