Portland police watchdog group open to adding people with arrest records


Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Tonight the police oversight committee suggests some changes; the city gets closer to regulating Airbnb; and the CAT will come back.

What we’re talking about

The civilian group charged with keeping an eye on Portland’s police wants to let people who have been arrested in the city serve on the panel that oversees internal police investigations.

On Wednesday, the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee recommended several policy changes that would open up participation but not sharpen the watchdog group’s teeth. In a memo to City Manager Jon Jennings, the group suggested a city ordinance be changed to take down barriers that block a variety of people from sitting on the subcommittee and allow it to report its findings directly to a person who brought a complaint against the police.

The suggestions, which would ultimately have to be approved by the City Council, come after the subcommittee received criticism from activists as being closed and underpowered. Kelly McDonald, the Portland lawyer who heads the group, said that members of the subcommittee didn’t think it needs greater powers but did want to be more open to the public.

“I think the system that we have works, but there were a few things we thought we could clean up,” said McDonald.

The subcommittee proposed allowing people who have been arrested by Portland police or brought certain types of complaints or lawsuits against the department to sit on the subcommittee two years after the matter is settled. The family members of such people and family members of police also would be allowed to participate in the same time frame. Members further recommended allowing former city employees and city councilors to sit on the body two years after they left office. All such people are presently barred from doing so.

The memo also suggests striking the requirement that subcommittee members be of “good moral character” because it is “too ambiguous.” The group’s members are appointed by the City Council.

Tom Kane, the former mayor and city councilor who championed creating the subcommittee in the late 1990s, greeted the elimination of these barriers as a positive step. They were set up, Kane said, because at the time, the City Council believed he was on a vendetta against the police. He also said that the body needs more power and that it was made weak as a political compromise.

“I knew it didn’t have much teeth to it,” he said.

The subcommittee reviews police internal affairs investigations into complaints brought against the department to ensure they are “thorough, objective, fair and timely.” It can report its findings to the city manager but does not have the power to overturn or alter the outcomes of internal affairs investigations. Its work is largely done behind closed doors as it involves personnel matters that are confidential under Maine law.  

On Monday, Mayor Ethan Strimling called for a public review of the subcommittee in his State of the City address.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck did not respond to a request for comment. 

Why one city councilor won’t vote for a $60 million schools bond — Belinda Ray writes in the Press Herald: “While the idea for this bond came from a good place, it is focused on renovating just four elementary buildings. That’s because concerned parents banded together to seek improvements at their children’s neighborhood schools – and those schools have significant needs. But so do many other Portland schools.”

Portland will consider renaming Franklin Street to honor Martin Luther King Jr. — City Councilors are considering renaming a major thoroughfare in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

The Sustainability and Transportation Committee will discuss changing the name of Franklin Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard at its meeting on Jan. 17 — the day following the federal holiday that marks the civil rights leader’s birthday.

Despite one being discussed for years, the city has not built or named anything after King.  

“This is a long overdue recognition in Portland,” said Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who heads the committee.

The CAT to come back — The head of Bay Ferries, which runs the high-speed catamaran between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, says the service will be back for a second year, Maine Public’s Irwin Gratz reports. Despite financial worries, the ferry plans to begin service on June 1, two weeks earlier than it started in 2016, company head Mark McDonald told the Nova Scotia legislature.

Police hit dead end in halal market investigation — Portland police say they have no new leads and have not identified a suspect in their investigation of vandalism at a halal grocery on Christmas Eve. In December, several large plate glass windows at the Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue were smashed, and police received a report that the damage was done by a white man with a baseball bat. More than two weeks later, the case has been labeled inactive, according to Lt. Robert Martin. The shop and its owner are the subject of an FBI probe into suspected welfare fraud. The grocery will likely see a surge in shoppers Saturday, as part of a push to patronized Muslim owned businesses organized in response to the vandalism.

Nat. Sec. adviser Susan Rice’s mom, a Portland native, has died “Lois Dickson was born in Portland, Maine, on Feb. 28, 1933. Her father, a janitor, and mother, a maid, were Jamaican immigrants who did not graduate from high school but instilled in her an appreciation for the transformative power of higher education, her daughter said in a phone interview.”

City closer to Airbnb regulations — The committee looking at how to regulate short-term rentals through services such as Airbnb settled on the policies it will likely recommend to the City Council Wednesday. Here’s some of what it expects to put forward: Annual rental registration fees ranging from $100 to $4,000 depending on whether the person renting the space lives there and how many units are being rented; a city-wide limit of 300 on the number of short-term rentals not occupied by the owner; and a total ban on renting non-owner occupied single-family homes for less than a month.

Tweet of the day

From the BDN’s own Michael Shephard:

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The Big Idea

“Nearly home” — The BDN’s Rosie Hughes reports from inside the isolation of the first refugee family to be resettled in small-town Maine.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Jake Bleiberg at jbleiberg@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @JZBleiberg.

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