LEWISTON — A police sweep of the downtown area wrapped up Wednesday night with the arrest of a man with a kitchen knife stashed in his back pocket, police said. A scuffle ensued, but the man was arrested and nobody was hurt.
That arrest brought an end to a five-hour police operation officials say was one of several to come.
Teams of local, state and federal agents fanned across the downtown Wednesday night, knocking on doors and searching for probation violators and other wanted criminals.
Before the night was through, 11 people had been arrested and police seized material they were testing as possible bath salts.
The probation sweep was part of an ongoing effort by local police to crack down on a recent wave of violence that has included gunfire on downtown streets.
"Obviously, this is a proactive approach to what's been going on," said Lewiston police Lt. Adam Higgins. "We're trying to curtail that kind of activity by beefing up patrols in the area."
Wednesday's sweep was the third in recent weeks. It involved a number of agencies, including the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Central Maine Violent Crimes Task Force and the Office of Probation and Parole.
Starting at about dinnertime, police and the various agents broke up into teams, each targeting a different area of the city. Teams made up of cops, probation officers and federal agents began knocking on doors.
They came up empty on Horton Street and again on College Street a few blocks away. At about 6:30 p.m., one of the teams went to Walnut Street in search of a man suspected of violating probation. He was found in a second-story apartment, arrested and taken to jail.
Minutes later, the team went to an apartment house at Pine and Horton streets where a second suspect, wanted on probable cause stemming from a domestic assault, was found and arrested.
By 7 p.m., two suspects were in custody. Half an hour later, three more were arrested.
While police were searching for known suspects, they were also keeping their eyes and ears open for information relating to other criminal activity.
"We're gathering information on a bunch of things," Higgins said.
The effort was, in part, a response to a series of recent incidents during which shots were fired on downtown streets.
On May 17, shots were fired on Blake Street, with a local man standing in the middle of the roadway and opening fire with a handgun.
One week later, more shots were fired, this time on Horton Street, where a man fired more than a dozen shots from an automatic weapon.
The weapon was recovered on Horton Street and arrests were made in both incidents. But with nerves rattled and police concerned about guns on the streets, an operation was organized to help combat the problem.
For weeks, several downtown residents have reported seeing teams of officers moving through the city. While the operation was under way, police did not confirm or deny that a special detail was at work. By Wednesday, local police acknowledged the sweep but said further details would come from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"Yes, we have been working some details," said Chief Michael Bussiere of the Lewiston Police Department. "We're going to continue to use a variety of tactics over the next several months to target these areas where we've had problems."
At about 10:15 p.m., as the team wrapped up for the night, a beat officer called from Horton Street after spotting a suspect who had eluded the team earlier. Several agents went to Horton Street and found that suspect with a knife in his back pocket. He was arrested and taken to the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn.
The suspect's name was not available.