Portland, ME, doesn’t have a problem with serious crime. Like many cities, Portland has seen rates of violent crime fall in recent decades.
But the downtown does struggle with public-safety nuisances such as panhandling, vagrancy, loitering, public drinking, and drug abuse.
Those issues might make a downtown less welcoming, but they aren’t the sort of law-enforcement challenges that necessarily require a city to assign full-time police officers. So the nonprofit Portland Downtown came up with a common-sense solution: It launched the Downtown Cadet Program, which deploys unarmed patrols to walk Portland’s streets during the busy season of May through early October.
The recruits are typically college students in criminal justice programs, or young people aiming for careers in the military or on a police force. “It’s a really good fit in terms of the cadets trying out a police job, and also for the police department to try out potential officers,” says Amy Geren, program director at Portland Downtown.
The cadets are trained by the police department in the concept of “verbal judo,” a tactic for encouraging a scofflaw to comply without physical force. They give warnings for violations of city ordinances, but the cadets aren’t empowered to make arrests. To help answer questions from visitors, recruits also get training from Portland’s tourist bureau. And they are also coached on services available for homeless people.
Details on Portland’s Downtown Cadet Program appear in the April issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Click below to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.