WATERVILLE — Waterville is a service center, where the population of 15,500 doubles during the day when people come into the city to work, shop, eat in restaurants and visit.
The city also has a lot of resources for people with mental health or substance abuse issues or both. There are two colleges, two hospitals, small malls and big box stores. There’s also a courthouse, probation office, a large population of sex offenders and a methadone clinic for people addicted to narcotics.
Such a service center presents challenges for a police department with only 30 officers. They handle about 1,500 vehicle accidents a year, respond to the hospital at least every day to help staff with patients who are out of control, investigate bank robberies, domestic violence cases, shoplifting reports and other incidents.
“This is not a criticism. This is usually what service centers face. It’s just part of being a service center,” police Chief Joseph Massey said Monday night.
He was speaking to a group of about 20 residents, including city councilors, a school board member, teachers and others who gathered at Spectrum Generations’ Muskie Center on Gold Street to learn how best to report crimes and help make their neighborhoods safe. Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, organized the meeting after receiving a flurry of calls recently from South End residents who had witnessed drug deals, domestic violence and other activity and wanted to know how to report them. Some feared that if they ratted on their neighbors, their neighbors would find out and get back at them.
Massey said people can always report a crime and not give their names, addresses and contact information. The main thing, he said, is that a community is always safer when police and residents work together.
“The most important partnership we can form is with the general public because there are more of you than anyone else,” he said.
Massey said everyone has some responsibility to help improve the quality of life — that cannot be left up to others, including police. They must take reasonable precautions to protect themselves, their neighbors and personal property, he said.
“The Police Department is always more successful if it has community support,” he said.
The prescription drug problem is epidemic and out of control, he said. Just last week, police broke up a methamphetamine lab operation in Waterville and Oakland. As prescription drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone become harder to get as pharmacies and doctors crack down, meth and heroin, which are easier to get, are becoming more prevalent, he said.
When people report drug crimes, whether they identify themselves or not, it always helps police.
“We are much more successful when you are our eyes and ears,” Massey said.
There are a number of ways people can report crimes: by going to the police department at 10 Colby Circle; by calling police at 680-4700; or by going to the police website, Massey said.
People may call 911, but should do so only in emergency situations, he said. Massey explained what is and is not an emergency. A barking dog does not constitute an emergency, nor do two people swearing, he said. But serious accidents, robberies and other crimes in progress, dangerous situations and those in which people are hurt are emergencies, he said.
“Dial 911 and we will respond to that,” he said.
People reporting non-emergencies should call the department’s business line, 680-4700, he said. He encouraged people to call police even if they are not sure whether they should do so.
“If in doubt, give us a call,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Rancourt-Thomas said she hears from many constituents who do not get satisfaction from landlords of apartment buildings when tenants cause problems.
“Is the landlord held responsible for the actions of their tenants?” Rancourt-Thomas asked. Massey replied, “Generally, no.”
Massey said a landlord asked police to remove the relative of a tenant and the relative was an adult.
“Under that particular scenario, we can not do that,” he said. “That renter has all the rights of someone who owns a home.”
Police can arrest someone for destroying property, for instance, but if a tenant is constantly partying, playing loud music or making loud noise, police can not arrest the landlord, he said.
“We have to have probable cause that someone broke the law and the landlord allowing that type of behavior — he’s not breaking the law. The tenant may be breaking the law.”
Police can call a landlord and say the activity is disrupting neighbors and encourage him to start the eviction process, but there is no guarantee the landlord will take the advice.
“Some of them do and some of them don’t,” he said.
Heather Merrow said recent changes in laws give tenants more rights than landlords. Jackie Dupont, coordinator of the South End Neighborhood Association, asked if there is a trigger or point at which police take the step of calling a landlord.
Massey said if there is a hot spot where police continually respond to complaints, a police supervisor typically calls a landlord, and if the situation does not change, Massey calls. “I’ll call them up and say, âListen, we’re utilizing a lot of resources to go down to your apartment again and again and again. You’ve got to help us.'”
Dupont asked what police do if a particular landlord owns several different buildings.
“We’ll do the same thing,” he said. “We’ll call them. That’s what we want to do. We want to resolve the issue.”
Resident Deborah Schmid recommended that people get to know or make contact with the landlord of a nearby apartment building, so if a problem arises, he or she can call. Massey said that is a good idea.
“Sometimes that works better than calling the police, if you’re having a particular issue with a neighbor,” he said. “Sometimes they appreciate that, rather than the police knocking on their door.”
A discussion about medical marijuana prompted Steve Soule, director of the South End Teen Center, to ask if it is against the law for someone who is authorized to use medical marijuana to use it around adolescent kids.
“If you’ve got a prescription for it, sure — you can take it around them,” Massey replied.