THUMBS UP to Augusta police Chief Robert Gregoire for delivering an important message while posing as a panhandler at Memorial Circle last week. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get lost in the race to put down the down-on-their-luck.

Gregoire took the day off from work on April 25 to stand in the heavily trafficked area and hold a sign asking motorists to give to local charities instead of panhandlers.

“Really want to help someone? … Give to the Salvation Army, Bread of Life Ministries, local food pantry,” the sign read.

He is absolutely right on that point — local shelters, food kitchens and other charities are able make good use of donations, leveraging what they take in so that they can make a real impact.

Gregoire, however, should have stopped there, because the rest of the sign — reading, “They won’t use your money to buy alcohol, tobacco (or) illicit drugs.” — casts all people who have found themselves begging in the same negative light.

Panhandling is a complex issue, with its interplay of free speech, poverty and public safety demanding a full discussion. How to correctly spend scarce dollars in the fight against poverty is a real part of that discussion. An unfair characterization of the most desperate Mainers is not.

THUMBS DOWN to the Maine Department of Corrections for its policy that puts heavy, dangerous prison-issued padlocks in the hands of even the most violent inmates.

Department officials say the padlocks are necessary to provide prisoners with their right to lock up personal belongings. An attorney representing four Maine State Prison inmates, however, says his clients were “beaten silly” by other inmates using the padlocks as weapons. The attorney and his clients say that is the most common use for the padlocks. One of the inmates who was attacked says there was one padlock attack every month while he was in prison, with most going unreported.

In a deposition, former Warden Patricia Barnhardt appeared ambivalent toward the use of the padlocks in attacks.

“It is concerning, but they’re in a prison where if they want to find a weapon, they will find a weapon,” Barnhardt testified. “They have 24-7 to figure it out.”

Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean officials should make it any easier.

THUMBS UP to Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the National Basketball Association, for coming down hard on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, whose racist statements caught on tape were released last weekend.

Silver, in one of his first major acts since taking over for longtime Commissioner David Stern, suspended Sterling indefinitely on Tuesday. He also fined Sterling $2.5 million and pressed the league’s board of governors to force Sterling to sell the team.

However …

THUMBS DOWN for it taking so long. Sterling’s racism and bigotry are a matter of public record. He has been sued for discrimination by former tenants and employees. He was taken to court by the federal government for housing discrimination before settling for $2.7 million. Add in the numerous anecdotes concerning his backwards views toward minorities, and it has been clear for years that Sterling is a relic, and bad for the league.

Stern, the NBA’s de facto dictator for three decades, should have used his considerable power to nudge Sterling out of the league. Instead, the NBA, in what was a business decision more than an ethical or moral one, ignored Sterling’s actions for years, and waited until his words threatened professional basketball’s bottom line.