LEWISTON – Fighting crime isn’t often as easy as turning on a city park sprinkler system.

But it can be, when police work with their communities and other city departments, said Police Lt. Michael Wells. The Concord, Calif., policeman spoke Wednesday as part of a three-week seminar for Maine police chiefs and command officers. The series was designed to teach ways to get the community involved in fighting crime.

For Wells’ department, the process began in 1992. Police in this San Francisco suburb began working with other departments to focus on neighborhood problems.

“It may sound simple now, but 15 years ago we barely talked,” Wells said. Police went about their business and other city departments went about theirs.

That changed when department heads and employees from all city departments began meeting regularly. Police officers and other city employees learned one another’s names and faces, and that helped them cut days of red tape.

“There was a park where kids were congregating, hiding behind bushes to drink and smoke pot,” Wells said. “We had the contacts; we could go to public works and say, Could you trim those trees back and take away their hiding place?’ Or we maybe get them to change the timing on the sprinkler system to water that area at about 8 p.m., when the neighbors were having the problem.”

Police and other city employees find all sorts of creative solutions to problems when they work together.

“It just makes sense to use the resources you have,” Wells said. Those include traffic and safety engineers, building and safety inspectors and city management.

“You find things when you work together, things you didn’t know were possible,” Wells said.

That’s one lesson organizers hope officers take home, according to former Lewiston Police Chief Larry Gilbert. Now the associate director of the Maine Community Policing Institute, Gilbert said police need to involve other city staff and citizens to be truly effective.

“Community problems need a community response,” Gilbert said. Getting everyone involved makes solving problems easier. It also makes police more familiar to citizens – and more trustworthy.

“And citizens have to trust the police, if the department is going to be effective,” Gilbert said.

The seminars will wrap up next Tuesday and Wednesday with discussions about policing immigrant communities and homeland security.


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