AUGUSTA — Augusta police on Wednesday fanned out in high-crime areas across the city to assure law-abiding residents — and warn those who are not — that they will see more police presence in the coming months. A lot more.

“It’s no secret,” said Augusta Police Deputy Chief Jared Mills. “We’re here. We’re coming. And we’re not going to go away.”

Modeled after a program Lewiston police have used for the past couple of years, Project Hot Spot was created to target specific areas known for having higher crime rates. The first phase occurred Wednesday afternoon, when roughly a dozen Augusta police officers walked downtown streets in the areas of Water Street and Mount Vernon and Northern avenues to hand out fliers to anyone they met. Officers explained their presence and asked residents if they had any concerns or information to share.

Police in Lewiston and Rumford also held a flier day on Wednesday.

“Today is the community policing piece,” Mills said.

The effort will be followed up in the coming months by a one-day, multi-agency enforcement effort that will include the Maine State Police; Probation and Parole, Kennebec County Sherriff and District Attorney offices; and federal agencies such as Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshals Service. Even city code enforcement and housing officials are expected to be included, Mills said. That event will include warrant and probation checks and confirming addresses of sex offenders.

“You’re basically taking all the people involved in the criminal justice system and getting as much enforcement as you can,” Mills said.

The first effort, held last fall, involved about 50 officers and city and county officials.

“It was such a success we plan on doing these on a regular basis,” Mills said. “Lewiston has had some success with this.”

While the idea is to crack down on all forms of crime, Mills said a major motivation is to strike back at drug trafficking.

“It’s not the only motive, but it’s at the top of the list,” he said.

Heroin use, in particular, is on the rise.

Over the last eight months, Augusta police made 20 arrests related to heroin and responded to 53 drug overdoses, 14 of which were from the use of heroin, according to Neill Miner, substance abuse prevention program manager for Healthy Communities of the Capital Area’s Southern Kennebec Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, who presented the information to Augusta City Council recently.

On Wednesday, Augusta Police Lt. Christopher Massey, in a briefing held before handing out fliers, told officers to make their presence known by talking to as many people as possible. “They need to know we’re in the area,” he said.

Massey said Lewiston has had enough success with the program that the police there have continued it for the past two years.

“I think, in the long term, this will help with some of the issues,” he said. “It can’t hurt.”

The teams of officers started in different sections of the downtown. While some people crossed the street or ducked into a building when they spotted several officers walking their way, most of the people officers encountered were glad to hear about the stepped up enforcement.

“It’s always nice to see initiative,” said Water Street resident Breon Shannon. “Obviously there’s a problem, but the real problem is when nobody tries to fix the problem.”

Melissa Tobias, owner of the Hair Gallery on Water Street, said Augusta police have always been quick to respond to complaints. She said the downtown foot patrols, which the department started last summer, had a positive impact.

“They’ve been great in the downtown,” Tobias said. “They make it easier.”

Tobias and Shannon said criminal activity is prevalent in the area.

“We see and hear a lot,” Tobias said.

Shannon said most of the problems he sees revolve around drug use. He said his place was recently burglarized. He suspects the thieves were motivated by a need to feed their drug habits. “They need that next fix,” he said.

While Shannon appreciates the police effort to crack down on drug abuse, he wonders how effective it will be.

“Trying to stop the drugs is like trying to rake leaves in a wind storm,” he said. “You can slow it down, but people are going to find a way to bring drugs in.”

Jeannie Reynolds, while walking with her son near her Bond Street home Tuesday, said many of the problems she has seen involve children.

“I’ve seen kids walking and smoking,” she said. “And older kids bullying younger kids.”

Reynolds said she has had to be vigilant to protect her son. She said one person on the sex offender registry for a conviction involving a child has been suspiciously friendly to her and her son.

“You hear people going up and down the streets real late at night,” Reynolds said. “They sound drunk. It gets pretty noisy late at night.”

Reynolds said she has heard about rampant drug use and arrests in the area. She supports the police effort to combat the problem and hopes it is successful.

“I hear horror stories about pills and heroin,” she said. “Luckily we haven’t been exposed to it. We stick to ourselves.”

Police asked anyone seeking more information about Operation Hot Spot or those with information on criminal activity to call the Augusta Police Department at 626-2370.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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