The Bangor Police Department could soon charge fees to group homes and homeless shelters that call officers for reasons that aren’t emergencies — such as instructing residents to go to bed, avoid swearing or not smoke inside — after the department says it has received a recent uptick in such calls.
There have also been “many instances” of facility staff immediately calling police when clients threaten to harm themselves rather than first trying to defuse the situation, Chief Mark Hathaway said in a recent memo to the Bangor City Council.
Now, the department wants to charge facilities that make more than three non-emergency calls a year, starting at $31 per officer who responds for fewer than eight calls annually and rising to $155 per officer for those that make more than eight. Any calls that police deem to be true emergencies would not contribute to the facilities’ totals.
Hathaway told city councilors during a meeting Monday night it could take two or three months to phase in the new fees and give facilities a chance to make changes before they take effect. Councilors didn’t take any action on the police department’s request Monday.
So far this year, the Bangor Police Department has received more than 180 calls from the 73 group homes and temporary shelters that it knows operate in the city, Hathaway said.
Group homes are generally licensed by the state to house people with intellectual disabilities while the shelters that Hathaway mentioned — so-called “low barrier” homeless shelters — offer temporary housing and generally don’t have stringent admission requirements, such as a requirement that clients abstain from drugs and alcohol.
It was not immediately clear if the number of calls referred to all calls or just those police deemed emergencies. A police spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for more information, including data on calls from previous years.
Hathaway said there are also shelters and group homes that properly train their staff and have not burdened police with non-emergency calls.
The goal of the proposal is not to make money off facilities, according to Hathaway. But after previous warnings have not prompted them to significantly reduce their call volume, Hathaway said the ability to levy fees would give the department a stick in its efforts to free up officers for true emergencies.
“We’re telling the clients to follow kitchen duties, tie shoes, [not leave the facility] without permission, really things that are not police matters,” Hathaway said. “It takes a lot of time for us to deal with those calls. We should be handling issues in neighborhoods, traffic issues and things like that. We seem to find ourselves at these facilities acting as their second or third house manager or case managers. We’re really subsidizing, in many instances, the low-barrier shelter or the group home.”
Hathaway compared the proposal to one adopted in 2016 by the Bangor Fire Department, which can now charge fees to residents who seek firefighters’ help for reasons other than emergencies, such as helping a resident retrieve an out-of-reach TV remote control or perform other mundane tasks.
While the fire department has not charged anyone under that provision, the change had the intended effect of reducing the amount of time that firefighters are tied up with non-emergency calls, Hathaway said.
He also suggested that group homes that are frequent callers may need to increase staffing or provide more training to their workers to reduce the frequency of non-emergency calls. He specifically named the Shaw House, an emergency youth homeless shelter on Union Street, as a place where staff members frequently request police assistance.
Two representatives from the Shaw House attended the meeting Monday night. While they did not speak for or against Hathaway’s proposal, they said they frequently have legitimate grounds to seek police help because they work with challenging clients who are in crisis situations.
“The shelter itself is a very busy place, and we do call the police a lot,” said Sean Scovil, the shelter’s director. “I think a lot of the calls are very warranted, and we don’t have a lot of options.”