Published Date Written by Marge NiblockPortland's neighborhood prosecutor, Trish McAllister — a police department employee who tackles issues such as nuisance crimes, graffiti problems and disorderly home issues — is looking forward to a conference call today with two lawyers who paid a visit to Portland last week.
Prior to their recent meeting, McAllister had never heard of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, an organization that the two men work for. She'd gone to Google, to see what community prosecution efforts were being conducted in other locations, and came across the organization through the search engine.
McAllister — a woman who exudes energy, and is the type of person who doesn't hesitate to act — contacted the group after reading about them. She heard back from them very quickly.
Enter Robert Hood and Steven Jansen. The two are attorneys from the association and in their role provide free services for evaluation to communities. McAllister invited them to visit Portland and they spent Tuesday and Wednesday, May 15 and 16 in the city.
In the couple of days they were here they were able to see how the city's Neighborhood Prosecutor's office is set up and to get a sense of the city. The Department of Justice picked up the entire tab for their visit, McAllister said.
The two attended the Chief's Community-Police Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday, May 16 and gave the group a PowerPoint presentation outlining what they're all about. Jansen told the group, "We're here to assist Trish and the Chief. We're here as a resource to assist."
Their two-day visit to Portland was crammed full of things to see and people to meet. They attended the weekly CompStat meeting; met with the District Attorney's Office; went to the Portland Downtown District; and met with business leaders. Several meetings were held with Police Chief Michael Sauschuck and a couple more were spent with McAllister, who also drove them around Portland.
Hood said that Portland is unique to have the community prosecutor working out of an office in the police department. Other jurisdictions they've visited have that position as a part of the District Attorney's Office.
Senior Lead Officer Dan Townsend represents Parkside, the West End and the St. John Street area. He attends the neighborhood meetings connected to those civic associations. The two lawyers spent three hours being driven around by Officer Townsend. He said he showed them various problem spots and graffiti, and spoke to them about community policing efforts that he's involved with, working with businesses, and the importance of filing criminal trespass papers.
Lawbreakers in public parks were a topic of discussion, disorderly crimes, and quality-of-life issues. Townsend said the riders in his police cruiser were impressed with the amount of public space Portland has, considering the size of the city.
When McAllister was asked whether she is a member of the APA, she said she is not a member at this time. "I don't know whether there's a financial component and I'm always trying to save money for the department." She is now on their listserv for getting information updates and invitations to seminars.
McAllister has accomplished a lot for Portland during her two-year tenure. One of the things she feels is a major improvement involves communication with landlords, which came about regarding changes to the Disorderly House ordinance, making it much more effective. Other communities are now adopting ordinances based on the one McAllister crafted here. She mentioned that she's going down to speak to people in Berwick who are interested in doing what Portland has done.
McAllister was instrumental in getting a graffiti ordinance passed. She's pleased that this subject has been brought to people's attention and she's also pleased with the voluntary compliance that is being achieved. She's not interested in fining people and punitive measures.
Trash remediation is another success that the Community Prosecutor's Office can point to as a positive result since its inception. When McAllister first started her job there were numerous complaints brought to the forefront about illegal dumping and unsightly trash left out, improperly bagged and left on the street.
Suzanne Hunt was placed in the position of Sanitation Compliance Officer by the Department of Public Works and the two work together very closely. The city looks and is a lot cleaner because of their coordinated efforts.
Judges now know the Community Prosecutor and the City of Portland is taking quality-of-life misdemeanors seriously, public urination being another one that falls into that category, along with trash and graffiti.
Panhandling is a nuisance issue that people complain about constantly, and this will be a topic that McAllister is going to try to alleviate. She feels that people need to be aware of the fact that they are not helping anyone when they give panhandlers money. She says, "People should give the money to public service agencies, not panhandlers. We want to help, but let's be effective. This perpetuates the problem."
McAllister's overarching idea is to become more effective and find more ways for her office to be engaged in positive ways to help and work with the community.
She is most intrigued by the concept of neighborhood accountability and community courts. "That's something I'd like to look at." She stated, "This is results-based prosecution. We want to end certain antisocial behaviors."
Today's phone call with the two attorneys from APA may provide McAllister with a preliminary assessment based on their visit to Portland. She's hoping a more formal assessment will follow, in a written report.
The visit by Hood and Jansen has spurred interest in new avenues that McAllister will be considering.