2012-09-21 / Community

Police grants will create more ‘safe zones’ in city

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland Police Department will have more resources at its disposal to fight drug abuse, underage drinking and domestic violence in the city in the upcoming year.

The city council approved the award of two grants to the police department at a meeting on Monday, Sept. 17. Additionally, the council amended an order to expand the list of “safe zones” in South Portland to include more areas frequented by children that will now carry a stiffer penalty for drug charges.

The U.S. Department of Justice awarded an Enhanced Police Intervention Collaboration (EPIC) grant in the amount of $57,849 to fund a collaborative effort to stop domestic violence by police departments in South Portland, Westbrook and Portland, as well as Family Crisis Services, a Portlandbased organization working to end domestic abuse.

The amount of the award pays the salary of a Family Crisis Services employee, who will make regular follow-up visits, accompanied by a police officer, to homes in those three towns that have placed a domestic violencerelated emergency call to police, said South Portland Deputy Chief Amy Berry.

Berry said the program avoids putting the civilian employee in danger because they do not respond with police to a “hot” call, or a dispute in progress, but still provides the family with the resources they need to receive help. The grant funds the salary for the Family Crisis employee to make home visits, while the local police departments match by paying the officer’s salary to accompany the civilian employee.

“Very often (Family Crisis Services) is so appreciative of the fact that police are taking it seriously,” Berry said. “It’s showing police can work collaboratively together with crisis services to stop the cycle.”

Mayor Patti Smith cited statistics from the National Coalition of Domestic Violence to highlight the gravity of the issue in Maine. Every 96 minutes, Smith noted, a domestic assault is reported to police in the state. Females were victims in nearly 60 percent of Maine’s 5,459 domestic assaults in 2006. Nationally, females are victims of 73 percent of domestic assaults.

Smith said she was “thrilled we are working collaboratively together” to fight domestic violence in South Portland.”

The police department also received a $7,360 grant from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to fight underage drinking in South Portland.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the grant from the Office of Substance Abuse Underage Drinking will fund overtime expenses throughout the coming year for officers conducting “party patrols” in South Portland.

Councilor Maxine Beecher said the issue of underage drinking is “particularly scary come spring and graduation time.”

“I appreciate we here in South Portland continue to take note,” she said.

In addition to the grant funding, the police department will also have the ability to impose some harsher penalties on those they arrest for drug charges in areas where children play.

The city placed a number of locations on the initial list in 2006, when a new state law went into effect that allowed cities to designate “safe zones.” Those included areas such as Mill Creek Park, Bug Light Park and Willard Beach. South Portland Police Officer Jeff Caldwell said in checking the original areas for proper signs, he identified five more areas to add as safe zones.

The additional areas include the South Portland Community Center, Red Bank Community Center, Yerxa Park on the Greenbelt, the Municipal Boat Ramp, and Jordan Park. Councilors also suggested the playground on Pierce Street be added to the list.

Police Chief Ed Googins said enforcing stricter penalties on drug charges in these areas is “both a deterrent and a statement to the community.”

“When we do something like this we make a statement about how we feel about our city,” said Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis.

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