PORTLAND, Maine — A survey of 762 Portland residents found that the vast majority feel safe in the city and have a positive view of the local police.
The Portland Police Department paired with University of New England professor of social work Thomas McLaughlin for the nine-month study, the first such locally performed research into public perceptions of city crime and law enforcement in 10 years.
Police Chief Michael Sauschuck released results of the survey to the Bangor Daily News on Thursday. The study findings largely aligned with the city’s and state’s reputation as a safe place — Maine is regularly judged to be one of the country’s safest places in terms of crime rates.
In the most recent report, Portlanders told researchers they consider panhandling, drug use, public drunkenness and loitering to be among the city’s biggest problems. That may be considered a plus compared to the alternatives — such as shootings, robberies and other violent crimes — which survey respondents described as minor or nonexistent problems in Portland.
Overall, respondents said they feel safe in Maine’s largest city. In the home, 54.1 percent of the Portlanders said they feel safe “all the time,” while another 38.7 percent said they feel secure “most of the time.”
Survey respondents reported feeling even safer walking alone in the city, with a full 63.7 percent saying they feel safe “all the time” while on foot on Portland streets. Another 28 percent said they feel safe walking alone “most of the time.”
In both cases, less than 9 percent of the residents said they felt safe only “some of the time” or “never.”
Those positive numbers dropped off somewhat when the activity takes place at night. Only approximately 28.6 percent said they feel safe “all the time” while walking alone after dark, with 41.2 percent saying they’re secure going for nighttime strolls “most of the time.”
Another 19.1 percent said they feel safe walking alone at night “some of the time,” and 11.2 percent — more than one in every 10 — said they “never” feel safe on foot in the dark.
In terms of people’s perceptions of the police department, 68.4 percent of respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that city cops treat residents with “dignity and respect,” while another 24.1 percent expressed “no opinion” on local law enforcement’s treatment of their constituents.
Just 7.5 percent of respondents said they did not believe the police treated members of the public with dignity and respect.
Nearly 72 percent of survey takers rated police relations in their neighborhoods as “good” or “very good,” another 18.5 percent called department relations “fair,” and 9.7 percent picked “poor” or “very poor.”
A generally positive view of the police may come from Portlanders’ relatively crime-free lives. Seventy-three percent told McLaughlin’s researchers they haven’t been a victim of crime within the last two years.
Asked to describe certain crimes as “major problems,” “minor problems” or “not a problem” in Portland, 69 percent of respondents said shootings are “not a problem.”
Survey takers instead considered street drugs, panhandling and drinking major concerns, especially in the Old Port, Bayside and Parkside neighborhoods.
More than 70 percent of respondents in Bayside and Parkside called drug and alcohol use major issues, while 78 percent of Old Port survey takers said panhandling is a big problem. Eighty-nine percent of Baysiders counted begging as a major problem, and 70 percent of Parksiders agreed.
Echoing what police called a bump in service calls in the neighborhoods, 47 percent of respondents in both Bayside and Parkside called vehicle break-ins a major problem.