Law enforcement officials walk to the Evidence Response Team vehicle on April 28 while investigating a shooting in Lewiston. A woman was shot overnight in the home at 15 Arch Ave. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

One Auburn man is so rattled by recent crime that he’s moving, not just out of the area, but out of Maine.

There was a double homicide last month just blocks from the home he shares with his family. On top of that, he says, blatant drug dealing in his once pristine neighborhood has forced him to sell his house.

“We have certainly seen a lot of negative change the last five years,” he said.

Others say they are staying put, but they find themselves modifying their behaviors to stay safe.

“I don’t go some places because alone isn’t safe,” said one Lewiston woman. “There is a lot more shooting. It has been on the rise when big men come from out of state to deal drugs or women.”

“I don’t drive through any of the downtown streets in Lewiston anymore like I used to unless absolutely needed,” wrote another Lewiston woman. “I also won’t walk the Riverwalk anymore — as I’m always alone — as I have been harassed by drunk, homeless guys a couple times.”


Others say they avoid walking near Kennedy Park in Lewiston. For still others, it’s Walnut Street, Bartlett Street or nearby areas where exchanges of gunfire have become commonplace since the end of last year.

Nerves are rattled in the Twin Cities, all right, and the perception that crime has spiked in both Lewiston and Auburn is almost universal.

But is it true?

In a strictly statistical sense, no. In fact, according to the latest statistics, made available from police departments in both cities, crime is actually down in most areas.

Deputy Chief Tim Cougle of the Auburn Police Department, right, speaks June 20 with a detective outside an apartment building at 49 Fourth St. in Auburn. Two people, a man and woman, were found slain inside the apartment. A Connecticut man was later arrested. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

There are some caveats, however. In Lewiston, some crimes are up, and significantly so. There have been 16 reported robberies since the start of the year, for instance, compared to eight in the same time period a year ago. There have been more burglaries, considerably more thefts, slightly more drug violations and, of course, more reports of shots fired.

It’s those gunshots more than anything else that have captured the attention of a nervous public.


In 2021, 13 reports of shots fired in Lewiston were confirmed . This year there have been 21 confirmed reports of shots fired and, what’s more, nine people have been struck by gunfire.

There’s a caveat there, as well. When shootouts happen on downtown streets, police say, it’s typically the result of ongoing feuds between rivals in the drug trafficking trade, many of them who are from states in lower New England.

“It’s a small group of people who are feuding with each other,” said Lewiston Police Chief David St. Pierre.

Lewiston Crime Statistics by sunjournal on Scribd

Typically, those struck by gunfire downtown were either actively involved in the gun fight or were the intended targets. On one occasion, a man who was hospitalized with gunshot wounds was later arrested for being part of the gun battle.

But there is one notable exception. On an early morning in late April, a 24-year-old woman was shot and seriously wounded inside her home on Arch Avenue in Lewiston. A day later, police tracked down a suspect, described as a violent fugitive, in a Massachusetts hotel room.


The victim of that shooting, 24-year-old Meghan Duncan, is still recovering from her wounds. Police have not indicated what motivated the shooting.

Others struck by gunfire downtown survived their injuries as well. Lewiston police, badly short-staffed like many police departments in the COVID pandemic world, are still investigating the recent shootings. It’s not always easy to wrangle suspects, they say, because when it comes to downtown violence, a lot of people just don’t want to get involved. The victims of most of these shootings themselves have no interest in helping police identify suspects, investigators say. And the public, no matter how horrified by the violence around them, are wary about reaching out to police.

“In the community as a whole, we encourage people to come forward as witnesses,” St. Pierre said. “But that’s a tough sell because they’re afraid of repercussions.”

You can hardly blame them. Because no matter what the numbers say, there are plenty of folks who insist that it just doesn’t feel as safe to be out and about in downtown Lewiston as it used to. Headlines tend to back those people up.

On Thursday, two men reportedly assaulted an elderly man outside a Main Street bank. According to police, the man was beaten and robbed of his cash by the pair, who then fled. It’s exactly the type of story that makes people wonder whether it is safe to go out at all in any part of the city, regardless of what the numbers say.

Several people have come forward, in an anonymous way, to report being attacked for no reason on downtown streets by roving gangs of thugs, often juveniles. Sometimes robbery is the motive. Other times, there doesn’t seem to be any motive at all.


Auburn Crime Statistics by sunjournal on Scribd


On an afternoon in late June, Sun Journal reporter Joaquin Contreras was on Howe Street in Lewiston looking for a person he wished to interview for a news story he was working on. On his walk back, at the intersection of Howe and Pine streets, Contreras encountered a group of youths near the corner.

“Five in total and I would estimate between 14 and 16 years of age. All African American,” Contreras said, describing the encounter.

Contreras asked the kids whether they knew the person he was looking for. The teens then became noticeably anxious and began speaking to one another in a foreign language, the reporter said. He and the group parted ways but shortly after, the group hollered back to Contreras.

He didn’t want any trouble, Contreras said, and he told the teens as much.


“As I walked away, I felt as though it was not over,” the reporter recalled, “and I turned around just as a hand swiped across my face, throwing my glasses across the street. The group began to surround me, as I did not back down, and went toward the one who struck me.”

Two of the youths approached Contreras, he said, and in an effort to protect himself he fought back. “Either one of the two youths immediately attacking me or a third from the group began to throw traffic cones at me,” he said. “One of which shattered my wristwatch. At one point, a full garbage can was thrown at me, scratching my left arm.”

The scrap continued.

“As I fought with the two youths, one of them struck me on the left side of my face in the lower area of my left eye, high on my cheekbone,” Contreras said, causing an eye injury. “This immediately stunned me and I stumbled back, which was when the group ran off. At this point I was leaning on a chain link fence behind which construction was being done at that intersection. Two construction workers and a neighborhood resident came over to check me out, the latter helping me find my glasses. I could hear other residents yelling after the kids and asking why they were messing with me. Once I had my glasses I walked back to the Sun Journal office where I notified my supervisors what happened.”

Contreras did not pursue charges against the teens who attacked him. They remained unidentified.

The reporter considers the assault a learning experience.


“I think the whole issue stemmed from the fact that these kids were looking to show how tough they were,” he said. “It was very unnecessary and fueled by ego. I wanted no part but they kept goading me, and why would they stop? None of the neighbors standing outside said anything, only after the fact when they hit me and ran. These kids don’t get the love and support at home and from the community to reflect that in their daily lives. I was assaulted doing my job, asking them about a story I was reporting on. Maybe my questions or our encounter irritated them, but the violence it provoked is a learned response; a violence which citizens foster when they react with apathy and do nothing instead of discouraging it from the start.”

Sun Journal photographer Russ Dillingham, who has worked downtown for more than 30 years, said he also has seen an increase in dangers on the streets lately. Like Contreras, Dillingham has been the target of hostility while he’s out on the job — more so now than in recent years.

“All I can say is there is a distinct negative vibe whenever walking around downtown,” the photographer said.

“A palpable hostility, he said,  where “people are on edge, angry or asking for a handout. The amount of people just hanging out, drinking and doing drugs is highly visible and frightening. There used to be a few ‘scary’ looking dudes around town but there are very mean looking people — men and women — I try not to make eye contact with.”


St. Pierre and others in law enforcement say that while people have a right to be alarmed about crime and violence, part of Lewiston’s bad reputation comes from both history and current conditions within the city. It’s a line of thinking based on the so-called Broken Window Theory, a concept wherein each problem that goes unattended in a given environment affects people’s attitude toward that environment and leads to more problems.


Right now in Lewiston, people can be seen openly drinking alcohol on downtown street corners. Spent syringes are tossed on the ground and there are more homeless folks sprawled in doorways or in Kennedy Park than ever before.

The matter of homelessness has been a hot button issue of late as the city mulls whether to open a low-barrier shelter in Lewiston. Police say they field complaints about homeless people almost daily, but the way they deal with those complaints has changed, thanks in part to the recent “Homelessness Crisis Protocol,” a law that just went into effect in the spring.

Instead of arresting homeless people on charges such as criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, minor drug possession, public drinking or urinating in public, police are asked to find gentler approaches.

“So what the law urges us to do is to try to find alternative ways of handling that, like offering the resources they need, like if they suffer from substance use disorder, for instance,” St. Pierre said. “I can tell you that every single day our police officers — not just the project support workers, but police officers — are providing resources to people. They are asking: ‘Can I get you some help?'”

It’s the same with panhandlers, who are left alone unless they are causing issues with traffic or with passersby. That means more people on the streets and in the public parks day-after-day and all of it combines to paint a picture of a city struggling.

Police block a section of Bartlett Street in Lewiston after reports of shots fired on an evening in late December. Ernest Edwards photo

You also have to factor in the drug problem — like cities across the nation, Lewiston police and emergency crews often respond to several overdoses per night, reviving drug user after drug user with Narcan. The police department has expanded its crisis intervention staff to help address the problem of addiction and the trouble that comes with it.


But drug addiction creates a lot of emergency calls and each one ties up police resources that could be used in other ways, such as downtown saturation patrols. In a department that’s currently down nine officers, every minute of a cop’s time is valuable.

“Since I became chief, I’ve been working with some of the most dedicated police officers in the state,” St. Pierre said. “They have a hard job and they deal with it well. But they’re tired. I don’t know a better way to say it. These guys are working overtime like crazy.”

Police are currently in the process of hiring new officers to fill the gap. The city, meanwhile, says it plans to help out by making more resources available to police and the people they serve.

“Lewiston is by and large safe,” said Mayor Carl Sheline. “It’s a good place to raise a family, open a business and build community. Having said that, I’m troubled about the crimes that are committed here, and I have absolute confidence in the Lewiston Police Department. As a city, we are taking steps to address underlying issues that contribute to crime by increasing access to economic opportunity, housing, substance use treatment and more.”


The City of Auburn doesn’t typically suffer from the same reputation that Lewiston has endured for decades. But some recent high-profile crimes, like violence directed at the homeless near Bonney Park and a shocking double homicide at a home on Fourth Street has residents of that city buzzing, as well.


Auburn Police Chief Jason Moen acknowledges all of that and understands why residents are wary. But after producing the city’s year-to-date crime stats, it’s clear that Auburn is not experiencing a crime surge.

“Just about all our numbers are about the same or slightly lower than last year,” Moen said.

Which is not to say that there are not problems police need to address. It’s not only violent crime that affects the populace.

“The only two real increases you see are in theft of motor vehicle parts and drug violations,” Moen said. “Catalytic converter thefts have plagued not only us but the entire state this year. Hopefully, the changes in state statute where now only a licensed vehicle mechanic can sell catalytic converters will help stem this trend.”

Auburn may not have the same crime numbers as Lewiston, but the sister cities do have one thing in common, and that one thing affects everything else. Namely, opioid addiction.

“Drugs continue to be a problem for us as fentanyl is becoming more and more prolific,” Moen said. “The drug problem is one where we are not going to arrest our way out of it. I am a firm proponent and always have been of a three-prong approach to the drug issue: prevention, treatment and enforcement. We need to enhance all three to be successful in battling the opioid epidemic.”


Auburn police have partnered with the state’s Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach Naloxone Safety program, the chief said, and are co-responding with a social worker to conduct overdose follow-ups and to offer treatment services to those battling addiction.

The city has also created a public health manager position which is focused on getting help to people in need, Moen said. Police will appear before the City Council on Aug. 1 to request funding from the American Rescue Plan Act in order to partner with Tri-County Mental Health Services to provide two Project Support You positions within the city.

Project Support You, first rolled out in late 2018, puts a staff member trained in several treatment practices with a police officer to address crisis calls related to substance misuse.

The PSY project, said Moen, is “an outreach-based, ‘boots on the ground’ service and resource for those who are at risk of overdose, repeat overdose, and other harms precipitated by substance misuse and mental health challenges.

“The program is designed to meet people in need where they are, and works to ensure the community is aware of how to access help for their loved ones,” the chief said. “In collaboration with public safety, PSY offers a strategy that goes beyond traditional law enforcement response. Together, we can operate in a compassionate and humane way by diverting individuals with substance misuse and mental health challenges from involvement in the criminal justice system, and instead connect them to treatment and resources whenever possible. PSY recognizes that many people who are arrested suffer from mental illness and substance misuse disorder, and need access to treatment, and an opportunity for recovery, to improve their quality of life and to avoid inappropriate incarceration.”

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said these kinds of proactive measures have already had an effect on crime in the city. The plan now is to keep those numbers down.

“Data shows that Auburn is making a positive impact on crime,” the mayor said, “and that our efforts to take back our streets are working and with some of our new initiatives, we will continue to make Auburn the best and safest small city in New England.”

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