LEWISTON, Maine — An 18-month effort to boost the police presence downtown has proved so successful that it will continue into 2015.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II and Lewiston police Chief Mike Bussiere announced Monday that the Operation Hot Spot program has received a $149,863 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
That will allow the special patrols to continue and the program to expand.
“It’s sustaining these efforts and maybe increasing them,” Bussiere said. “With the grant money and with training we will be able to do more. We can send guys to training to learn the best practices that have been done in other areas, like bigger cities that have some ideas we haven’t thought of.”
Part of the new grant will be earmarked to create an educational and life skills program aimed at downtown youth through The Root Cellar community center.
“It’s life skills, its mentoring,” said Joel Furrow, director of the non-denominational Christian community center. “The way it works, you need access points for the police to identify kids that need help and courts do a good job of that. They tell them to do community service hours and we can serve as the place to do that. But we can offer skill building opportunities, too.”
Bussiere said the Hot Spot program has been a success. It started in May 2012 after a series of shooting incidents downtown.
“We had some shootings downtown, just indiscriminate gun fire,” Bussiere said. “We felt it was mostly drug related, people fighting over territory, and they brought a kind of out-of-state mentality to a small city in Maine.”
Lewiston police increased regular patrols as part of the program but were teamed with federal and state drug and firearm officers for special sweeps.
“We knew we could not allow that big city atmosphere to move into Lewiston,” Bussiere said. “We are not ready for that.’
Delahanty said the program accounted for 100 arrests or charges of criminal conduct, the seizure of 28 illegal firearms, 1,375 grams of illegal drugs and more than $44,000 in drug trafficking proceeds and related money.
“Drug trafficking has not gone away,” Bussiere said. “I think we have had an impact on the what we see on the streets, and some realization from the folks involved in criminal activity that we are going to continue to go after them, arrest and prosecute them. In addition, we won’t tolerate that violence on our streets.”