AUBURN — City officials are considering the reorganization of part of the Police Department, creating a special unit to tackle issues bred from poverty in the poorest downtown neighborhoods.

Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen and Police Chief Phil Crowell presented the idea to city councilors at a workshop Monday night. 

The proposed Neighborhood Revitalization Unit would work closely with other city departments, such as Planning, Code Enforcement, Fire and Social Services, according to Moen.

The police received 35,192 calls for service between July 2014 and the end of June 2015. About 33 percent came from one of three neighborhoods — the Hampshire Street area, downtown and New Auburn. Those are three of the city’s Community Develop Block Grant areas that receive special funding from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We would be taking personnel from some of the departments and putting them all into the same workspace,” Moen said. “Code may be going to an address, working on an issue, and we can say, ‘You know what, we have an issue there, too.’ Then we can tackle it together.”

Officers from the unit would be more visibly devoted to those areas. On one hand, they’d be more familiar to residents there. On the other hand, they’d be able to recognize non-police issues that may lead to crime — deteriorating buildings and absentee landlords — and bring in staff from other departments to help.

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“What we need to do is reprioritize the resources we have to address problem areas and knock down the silos between city departments,” Moen said. “Right now, police may not know what code enforcement is doing. So we are making an investment into those areas and trying to revitalize them.”

The program would be funded with $83,985 from the Police Department budget and $61,475 from the drug forfeitures fund. A portion of the city’s block grant money could be allocated to this program in coming years, Moen said.

Councilors will take up the discussion again at a Feb. 8 workshop meeting.

Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he wanted the police to work more closely with the schools and Councilor Grady Burns said he had concerns.

“I strongly support the idea of getting resources to these communities, but I am not fully sold on whether they are best served by having the police be the lead agency,” Burns said.

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