The City Council’s Public Safety Subcommittee met January 10, 2023. The members of the Subcommittee are Councilor Ayn Hanselmann (chair), Mayor Becky Brink and Councilor Jonathan Martell.
On-Street Parking Issues: City Manager Steven Buck presented numerous photographs illustrating issues the City faces with vehicles and dumpsters in the right of way. Issues included unregistered vehicles, vehicles parked overnight where it is not allowed, dumpsters blocking sidewalks, cars parked on sidewalks, unattached trailers parked, junk and inoperable vehicles parked in the street, cars not moved during a snow event, and more. Councilor Martell asked if there were issues getting tow trucks to move the vehicles. Police Chief Craig Andersen replied that no one will tow a trailer, they will only tow cars and trucks. Lt. Chad Allen said the overnight shift officers are diligent about issuing parking tickets, but with the number of miles of streets and only four officers to cover them, it is daunting to get to them all. Deputy Chief Eric Small added that the procedure has changed since the first storm of the winter, now they start ticketing and knocking on doors once a parking ban has been issued, before the snow actually flies. “The last thing we want to do is tow…but we changed our way of thinking on that,” in response to feedback from the Highway Department, he said. Mayor Brink asked if there is anywhere people can park legally if they do not have off-street parking at their residence. Mr. Buck said they can park in the School St. lot. He said part of the problem is a zoning issue, where higher density development has been allowed which relies on on-street parking. But he said many cases of illegal parking are just a matter of convenience, where people have room in the driveway but don’t want to have to move their vehicles to let someone else out.
Police Department Year-End Update
ACO: Animal Control Officer Lauren Maselles said in 2022 she has stepped up patrol and summonsing of loose dogs. (See this story for the statistics on loose dogs in Sanford.) She said the stray cat issue has declined significantly since the free spay and neuter clinic was held a few years ago. Where there were once hundreds of reports of stray cats a year, in 2022 there were only 85. She added that many of those are not actually strays, just free roaming, which is legal for cats in Maine. If a possible stray is located, she does a quick welfare check and tries to identify the owner to make sure they have a home. She had 31 reports of loose livestock last year, about average. Wildlife complaints were up significantly. A few suspicious for rabies, but none were confirmed to be infected. Over $1,300 was spent on vet care for stray animals, and $1,125 on sheltering cats (some of that might have been vet costs as well). $400 was spent on sheltering dogs, a large savings from previous years. She said the Department has switched to a new veterinarian who is giving the City a significant discount. The City is required by law to provide vet care to stray animals.
Mental Health Unit: Officer Colleen Adams reported that she and Officer Mike Gordon responded to 924 calls for service throughout the year, and clinicians Lacey Bailey and Shannon Bentley responded to 167 calls, for a total of 1,091. The yellow flag law was utilized twice in December. They have encountered 105 people who reported homelessness in the past year, of those 43 are either still unhoused or their status is unknown. The SPD received 362 calls from residents with concerns about homeless individuals and 473 mental health calls. They responded to 120 overdoses (up from 70 in 2021) and there have been nine overdose deaths. There were 45 known cases of Narcan usage.
Criminal Investigative Division: Lt. Matt Gagne gave the summary. Detectives covered 633 calls, which included 24 sexual assault cases, 11 theft/fraud/scam cases, two overdose deaths, one infant death, two arson cases, three suspicious child injuries, one aggravated assault, one manslaughter case and one homicide. They received 20 referrals from DHHS or the District Attorney’s office in the last six months of the year. They logged 72 sex offender registries, executed six onsite search warrants, and drafted a number of search warrants for cyber media. 16 employment background investigations were conducted.
Mayor Brink said she found the statistics very sad and said she hoped there was counseling available for the officers who have to deal with these crimes. Councilor Hanselmann asked if the crime statistics for Sanford are higher or lower than other cities our size. Chief Andersen will get that information and report back next time. Lt. Gagne said over the past two years there has been a shift away from aggravated assault, robberies and other in-person crimes, toward cyber and media-related crimes. He said there was a large uptick in sex crimes during Covid as people were trapped at home. (Since this meeting, Lt. Gagne has been promoted to Major in a more administrative role, and Lt. Allen has taken over the CID.)
Patrol Division Update: The SPD’s shift supervisors each gave a report on the activities of their shift. Sgt. Mark Dyer of the day shift said the culture shift in the Department has created an environment in which every voice is heard, which has fostered a desire from everyone to provide excellent service. Some of the other successes of the past year included the Casting with Cops event and tackling problems with the vacant home at 10 Lenox St. Notable events included a vehicle standoff with a suicidal, homicidal person; a suspicious bag at the Memorial Day Parade; assisting another agency with a murder suspect; a “massive drug seizure” at a traffic stop; three fatal car accidents within a two-week period; and the active shooter threat at the High School. Sgt. Dyer said the shift supervisors have additional duties including evidence collection, quality assurance and vehicle maintenance. There are ten patrol officers on the day shift.
Sgt. Tom Sayre reported on the evening shift, which has seven officers and one unfilled position. Two of his officers are part of the Special Response Team and two others will probably join, which could create a problem if there is a tactical incident on the evening shift. One officer is going through accident reconstruction training and hopes to become a blood technician, which he said would be great to have someone in-house with those qualifications. The evening shift has the least combined experience, which means they require more supervision. In addition to supervising the patrol officers and administrative duties, Sgt. Sayre is also a de-escalation instructor and grant writer.
Sgt. Eddie Murphy reported on the midnight shift, which has four officers and two open positions. He said parking enforcement is a large part of their duties, but problems have decreased over the past 18 months as they have focused in this area. Catalytic converter thefts are also a frequent issue on the midnight shift, particularly in the first three hours. He echoed the comments of the other two supervisors that administrative duties take a large part of his time, and specifically mentioned body cameras, taser upkeep and concealed weapons permits.
Deputy Chief Eric Small provided statistics for the patrol division. The SPD had a total of 19,560 calls in 2022, an average of 53 per day. There were 2,914 motor vehicle stops and 935 motor vehicle accidents. Officers responded to 374 domestic disturbances, 88 motor vehicle burglaries, 135 assaults, 201 reports of criminal mischief, 232 drug offenses, 591 thefts and almost 1,000 reports of suspicious activity.
Staffing: DC Small said there are three officers currently in training, one is working while training. Three interviews were conducted last week. Seven members of the Department will be retiring this year. Chief Andersen said the command structure of the Department is in transition at the moment, with recently retired DC Tim Strout assuming a civilian administrative role, and Lt. Gagne being promoted to Major and taking over many administrative duties. Two of the Sergeants are acting as Lieutenants. He hopes that the reorganization and promotions will be finalized before the next meeting.
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