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Lewiston police patrols go beyond 9-1-1 calls

Police in Lewiston are teaming up with mental health workers for a citywide "Neighborhoods First" initiative.

LEWISTON, Maine — A new law enforcement initiative in Lewiston called "Neighborhoods First" aims to curb an increase in so-called "nuisance" calls. According to police, violations from loitering to trespassing have increased by 21 percent since 2020. 

And like in a growing number of Maine communities, the strategy is teaming up police officers with mental health workers to better respond to crisis calls and to provide resources for those experiencing homelessness. 

Officer Ryan Gagnon with the Lewiston Police Department, and Bernie Burrell, are getting ready to hit the streets of downtown.

Burrell, a licensed social worker with the Tri-County Mental Health Services program "Project Support You" shows us what's in her backpack. 

"I have Narcan, but I am low right now," Burrell said.

The eight-hour foot patrols take them through Kennedy Park and then pound the pavement up Lisbon Street in the heart of the business district. 

Police foot patrols, which went away due to pandemic-related staff shortages, are back in response to a spike in nuisance calls, which have been on the rise since 2020. Around 3,000 nuisance calls happened in 2022 alone. 

The calls range from loitering and public intoxication to city ordinance violations. As part of a citywide initiative, officers are not only focusing on these violations, they are alongside a full-time mental health worker.  

"Responding to all the mental health calls, calls involving substance abuse. It's a great person to have involved, offering resources that we don't know about," Lt. Derrick St. Laurent with the Lewiston Police Department explained.

"We are just there in the background hanging out and letting them build a repertoire, and they follow up with those people as well," St. Laurent added.

One man, who we are not identifying by name, experienced homelessness for years in New York. 

"It's important to keep an eye on these homeless people because they are our future," the man said, expressing the importance of the foot patrols.

Keith Tannenbaum owns The Vault, a beer and wine shop on Lisbon Street. He is also the board chair of the Downtown Lewiston Association, working to revitalize the downtown district. Tannenbaum said the return of foot patrols is helping bring more people to the area.  

"That's an indication that people are comfortable and you can open a business in downtown Lewiston and be successful," Tannenbaum said. 

The strategy also includes the Lewiston Police Department's Crime Reduction Unit, Community Resource Team, Criminal Investigation, and Patrol Division all working together to reduce violations before they become bigger issues. 

Lewiston police said an additional full-time mental health worker could be added soon to meet the critical demand for services over the long-term.

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