LEWISTON — If Osman Bashir has his way, he’ll be the first Somali to join the Lewiston police force.

It works out well, because the Police Department would like to have him.

One aim of the monthly meetings held at the Masjidul Salaam Mosque on Bartlett Street is recruitment, Community Resource Officer Joe Philippon said. The department is looking to bulk up its numbers, but it’s also looking to diversify.

At 27, Bashir has lived in the U.S. for most of his life and he’s lived in Lewiston for the past eight years.

“This is my home,” he said.

The father of two, Bashir is actively taking the tests necessary to get into the Criminal Justice Academy with an eye toward becoming a Lewiston cop.

“It’s not just me,” Bashir said. “I’ve got a few friends who are also interested in becoming police officers.”

It appears that recruiting officers from the Somali community will not be a problem. But of course, recruitment is only one piece of the work that goes on at these monthly meetings.

Partnering with City Councilor Kristen Cloutier, Philippon uses the meetings to tackle any issue, big or small, that arises within the immigrant community.

“Kristen and I have really kept the meetings open and fluid,” Philippon said, “so we can address — or look into addressing — any needs within the new Mainer community.”

At first glance, the meetings might seem chaotic to an outsider. More than a dozen people are crammed into a small room at the front of the mosque. Some sit, some stand, a few come and go throughout the meeting. There are often multiple conversations going on at once as discussions are translated for those in the room who do not speak English.

Chaotic, maybe — and yet, a lot gets accomplished.

On Friday, the meeting began with a report from Bill Grant, director of Lewiston Adult Education. Over the past couple months, he told the group, adult education has signed up nearly 200 recent immigrants for classes.

“These are all English language learners,” Grant said.

With classes filling quickly, school officials are exploring the idea of offering an English survival class, which would provide language basics to those waiting to get into regular classes.

“Just know that we’re doing what we can,” Grant said, “to get people into those classes as quickly as possible.”

Cloutier briefed the group on her meetings with criminal justice officials on matters of immigrant crime. Philippon advised that Advocates for Children are increasing the number of parental support programs offered to immigrant parents. Grant described a new training program that will teach immigrants the skills of construction.

The meeting took on one topic after another with no need for agendas or set schedules. After two years, it’s become more of a focus group, Philippon said, where problems are discussed and solutions offered in no particular order.

The meetings began two years ago. At that time, Philippon said, it was mostly about keeping lines of communication open, and about establishing trust between police and the Somali community.

These days, Philippon and Cloutier routinely invite outside guests to the meetings — politicians, education officials and others — depending on the needs of the group. 

As Philippon and Cloutier are almost always there, so is Imam Abdikadir Abayle, who advises on the day-to-day conditions at the mosque.

“We’re doing good,” Abayle said Friday. “There is no problem.”

And of course, there is the recruitment effort, however informal. Even if the adults in the room had no interest in becoming cops, Philippon said on Friday, their children may feel differently.

“I remember my parents asking me what I wanted to do when I grow up,” Philippon said. “The goal here is that at some point, these parents will ask their children, what do you want to do when you grow up? Why not become a police officer?”

Philippon suggested that the first police officer from the Somali community might be someone who is currently in high school and only beginning to think about his or her future.

Of course, it’s also possible that by the time that person joins the force, Bashir will already be there.


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