Growing pains

By SARA DONNELLY  |  January 25, 2006

Portland’s police force claims the party in the OP on its busiest nights is stretching the department thin. That, judging from Gorham’s hearty congratulations from Police Chief Tim Burton immediately following last week’s council vote, may be the real reason the councilor is in such a rush to put retail where clubs could be. (Gorham, a real estate agent by trade, has been a bail commissioner for 13 years, hence his close relationship with the cops.)

Burton testified at the council meeting that the Old Port generates around 15 percent of the city’s total calls for service annually, more than any other neighborhood in Portland. According to police records, calls for service in the Old Port have risen in the past three years despite a reduction in the number of bars there — which means Gorham’s plan might not cap crime at all. From 2002 to 2003, bars in the Old Port generated 148 police calls, from 2003 to 2004, 171, from 2004 to 2005, 211. Of those 530 total calls for service — including fights, assaults, and weapons violations — more than 80 percent were for incidents in the street, usually just after closing at one in the morning.

A troubled teen?
Crime and tension in other parts of the city, Deputy Police Chief Joseph Loughlin believes, have made the Old Port at night a destination for drug dealers, thieves, and criminals. Three years ago, a police tactical enforcement unit of between nine and 14 officers was assigned exclusively to the Old Port on weekends to address the crime there, though the Phoenix didn’t see any cruisers or uniformed police in the Fore Street and Wharf Street areas at closing time last Friday night when a one-punch fight on Wharf Street left a man’s face covered in blood. (See “Missing in Action.”) Whether something like this is scary enough to keep visitors away from the Old Port is up to opinion — at least 50 people smoking cigarettes and chatting in the street seemed not to be bothered enough to move along.

A more serious event affected councilor Gorham’s family when his adult nephew was sent to the emergency room in 2003 after he was allegedly attacked by two men in the Old Port. Gorham believes the men came out of one of the bars.

SIGN OF THE TIMES Iguana’s look is on the way out.But a lot of young people who frequent the Old Port at night say they feel safe and don’t want things to change. Gorham’s 24-year-old niece, Erin Mussenden, who last Friday night was out at Amigo’s on the corner of Dana and Wharf streets, believes her uncle means well but wonders whether the city shouldn’t just clamp down on the trouble bars instead of limiting the number of new licenses available.

“We haven’t talked about [his policy], but I have told him about some of the stuff that’s happened down here,” says Mussenden, referring to a time she was approached by a drug dealer. She says the Old Port’s nightlife is fun and she enjoys the collection of bars in the area. “I don’t really feel unsafe down here, as long as there are police around.”

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Scenes from Old Port. By Jeff Inglis and Sara Donelly.

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