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Bangor Public Library dealing with unprecedented spike in crime

Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 5:37 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Since the beginning of the year, the Bangor Public Library has had to repeatedly call police to deal with people that are committing crimes on library grounds.

It comes as the city has seen a reduction in some of the services that were available to those experiencing homelessness.

“There’s been a lot more people in who are behaving in an inappropriate manner,” said Ben Treat, Bangor Public Library director.

“The type of calls we face are frustrating, kind of shocking for us to respond to those type of calls inside the library. It seems kind of foreign for us, so something we’re definitely not used to,” said Sgt. Wade Betters, Bangor Police Department.

In January and February, Bangor police have had to respond to the library 38 times.

“Everything from fights to drug overdoses, drug possession, some drug dealing, some drug trafficking that appears to be going on right out in open in the open inside the library. We’ve also had some sexual type crimes, sex in public taking place in the bathrooms, suspicion of prostitution,” said Betters.

Officials tell TV5 the increase in these instances at the library have followed the closing of a nearby daytime warming shelter and the end of the funding that utilized the Ramada Inn.

“Think there is a higher level of those experiencing homelessness within the library clearly during the day, and I think we all know that many of them are facing significant substance use disorder issues, mental health issues, and many times cooccurring at the same time. So, it is a challenging population. So, I’m not surprised that there is that number,” said Debbie Laurie, Bangor City Manager.

Organizations that work with this population to try and help find a path forward visit the library multiple times a week.

“Have people who are coming in here because they’re escaping a dangerous situation at home. They don’t have their social security card. They don’t have their ID. They’re going through the bureaucracy of rebuilding their life, and they’re not here causing trouble,” said Treat. “Like if we had 40 people in here at a given time who are experiencing homelessness, I would guess it was probably three, four, or five people who are, you know, a cluster of people who are causing trouble, and we need to respond to that three or four or five people.”

He adds they’ve recently become more strict in their policies banning people from the grounds.

“It’s about one person a week that we’ve had to ask to leave or tell to leave for a year,” said Treat.

“Never want somebody to come to the library and say, wow, that’s a crowd that I just don’t want to be around at all. We do need to, whenever we’re seeing behavior, that’s not acceptable, we need to continue telling those folks that they have to leave,” said Treat.

Both the city manager and the police department say they will work with the library to find a solution. We asked if hiring an officer to be there full time was an option.

“Having a permanent presence of a police officer here I think wouldn’t necessarily be the right presence. That’s not something we’re looking to do,” said Treat.

“We are struggling mightily to hire and retain police officers, so even if the there was a desire to do that, we’d have to actually find an officer and hire an officer, so,” said Laurie.

For now, the library has surveillance cameras it will continue to utilize and will ask its current staff to be more diligent in monitoring things.

“The best thing that we can do is to have a real presence in all the spaces where we need to be to make sure that this doesn’t feel like an open space for somebody to do those kinds of things,” said Treat.

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