FAIRFIELD — Town officials in collaboration with top law enforcement officers are considering pushing for legislative changes and perhaps establishing a teen center as a way to address ongoing problems with behavior by juveniles.

Residents for months have complained about a group of juveniles — approximately a half-dozen teenagers — who they say are causing a rising number of problems, such as harassing people and jumping in front of cars to stop traffic.

Residents who attended a Town Council discussion on the juveniles Wednesday, and a public forum one night later held by police Chief Thomas Gould, said they are frustrated by what seemed to be a lack of response from law enforcement and questioned why the teens can repeat the same behavior day after day.

Those complaints have drawn the attention of state legislators, Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty, and Kennebec and Somerset District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, all of whom attended Wednesday’s council meeting.

“It’s important that we all remember it’s a small group of kids that are out there, 90% of the kids that we see out there are really decent kids. They want this problem fixed as much as we do,” Gould said at the meeting.

Fairfield officers are responding to complaints about these teens, he said, explaining police have responded to 27 calls involving juveniles in just the first half of October — making up almost 8% of the department’s calls. The behavior has been a problem for the last two years, Gould said, and matters have steadily gotten worse. But the aberrant behavior has escalated in the last several weeks, he said.


The department has adjusted its approach and officers now regularly patrol downtown when school lets out for the day, which Gould said seems to be having some benefit. But when another call comes in and an officer has to respond, the teens see the officer leave and return to their offensive behavior, Gould said.

“We handle every call that comes in,” Gould said. “But we are not social workers. We can’t babysit, and we’re not parents. The only thing we can do is investigate crimes.”

Gould and Maloney said at Wednesday’s meeting they understand the frustration from residents, but recent legal changes have made it difficult to hold the teens in juvenile detention. There are specific conditions laid out in state law to allow for a minor to be detained — for instance a juvenile must be charged with a felony, rather than a misdemeanor.

Previously, law enforcement could detain a minor to provide physical care for a juvenile who cannot return home because there is no parent or guardian willing and able to adequately care for them, Maloney said. That meant that when a youth didn’t have a great home life and needed further support, they could be sent to Long Creek Detention Center in South Portland, the state’s only juvenile detention facility.

But the Legislature this year removed that as a reason for detaining a juvenile. And in many cases the behavior of the teens in Fairfield is considered disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor.

Gould also said in some instances residents don’t want to give full statements to police or are not willing to testify in legal proceedings, so prosecutors can’t move forward with a case.

“I cannot prosecute disorderly conduct if the only person who has witnessed it is the police officer,” Maloney said. “I have to have a civilian witness, it’s the way the statute is written.”

Maloney said that she has seen success in towns like Augusta and Waterville where there are teen programs after school that keep youth occupied and dissuade them from wandering town.

Residents this week expressed support for more teen programs in Fairfield and legislative changes to make it easier to detain juveniles, but some also said that they want to see a more immediate change in town.

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