All summer long, small armies of police, drug agents, probation officials and others rolled through Lewiston's downtown. Before they had time to react, suspected drug dealers and prostitutes were loaded into the back of police cruisers, bound for the county jail. It was called Operation Hot Spots, and its swarm-like presence got plenty of notice.
Lewiston police Chief Michael Bussiere assembled this team of law enforcers in the spring after a series of shootings rattled several downtown neighborhoods. They weren't deadly shootings – mostly it was just people firing several rounds from automatic weapons – but the roar of gunfire kept many on edge.
And while Lewiston residents were complaining about this problem, other issues were noted. Prostitutes made indecent proposals right out on public streets. Drug dealers left syringes and bags of dope all over the place, presenting dangers to anybody walking by.
So, Bussiere, with the help of the U.S. Attorney's Office, put together his team, and together, they started marching across the downtown. By the time summer wound down, more than four dozen had been arrested in the weekly sweeps that had law-abiding citizens applauding.
Most of them, anyway. Some downtown folks complained that the constant police presence made them feel more harassed than safe. Some worried that innocent people would draw police attention as much as those who are up to no good.
At the end of November, downtown residents were invited to give them feedback, just as they had done in the spring.
"The overall consensus was that things had gotten better downtown," said Bussiere. "And they appreciated it."
Is this the end of Operation Hot Spots? Hardly. Heading into 2013, Bussiere said similar operations will get under way. This time, they won't be just looking for prostitutes, drug dealers and felons with guns.
"The community folks expressed that they want to see a focus on quality of life issues," the chief said. "Things like people hanging around storefronts, drinking in public, areas that are dark and which feel dangerous. These are the smaller things we can address to help make people feel safe."