Between March and July of this year, Bangor’s Community Action Team responded to nearly 530 calls, mostly dealing with welfare checks, public service and vagrancy complaints.
The team, also known as BCAT, became fully staffed with four people in March. They have experience with addiction recovery, mental health disorders and veterans issues, and they respond to calls that do not require a police response.
Bangor City Manager Debbie Laurie presented data to six city councilors present for committee meetings Wednesday night. The data represent the Bangor Community Action Team’s first five months of work, though the city is still refining how it tracks information, she said.
The program was created to free up police to do more traditional work, so now a call about a person having a mental health crisis will go to BCAT as long as there is no threat or violence. It is intended to provide a more thoughtful response to those who need it and direct them to resources. Diverting 529 calls in five months is a success because it accomplishes those goals, but the city also has room for improvement, Laurie told councilors.
BCAT can provide service six days a week when fully staffed, but the team is short two people, she said. The city is in the process of hiring for those positions.
“I believe the response has been received positively by the individuals [getting help], organizations and city staff,” the city manager said.
Among the 529 logged responses, 233 were labeled as welfare checks, 125 as public service and 108 as vagrancy complaints, according to a summary. Other categories include “citizen assist,” loitering, traffic hazard, trespassing and overdose, among many others that could be tweaked to be more specific, Laurie said.
May was the busiest month with 169 responses.
Public service is usually self-assigned work where BCAT employees drive around and check on people, and data do not reflect the whole picture, Laurie said. For example, there might be a single report about a BCAT employee at the library, but they might have had 14 interactions there, she said.
Most BCAT responses are initiated by calls that come into Bangor’s dispatch center. The city needs to streamline its communication, particularly when calls are made to city hall or the public health department and must be directed to the BCAT team, she said.
Required reporting of BCAT’s responses has also been a struggle because any call initiated by dispatch needs to be tracked and maintained in a system accessible only to law enforcement, Laurie said.
“We always want to know where our employees are, so we had to address that through radio access to make sure they are clocking out with dispatch,” she said.
The city manager sees the integration of the city’s police and public health departments to ensure the right responses to calls as a success. She also noted the reciprocal relationships forming across departments and within the community.
Councilors applauded the program, and some predicted a spike in responses for August because they have noticed more unhoused people, particularly downtown. Councilor Cara Pelletier wondered if Portland’s clearing of encampments is pushing people toward Bangor.
“I think as a city we have tended toward the side of being very humane, very helpful [and] allowing flexibility in how we manage our ordinances,” she said. “What we’re hearing is that business owners, citizens and visitors don’t appreciate that.”
There is a sense that downtown Bangor is dangerous, Pelletier said. While she disagreed, she said if someone believes that, they won’t eat and shop there or use the parking garage.
BCAT’s work and connecting people to services should continue, she said, but the city should also be more assertive with its enforcement when people misuse public spaces and inject drugs in public.
Bangor’s City Council is next scheduled to meet Monday, Sept. 11.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the dispatch center that handles calls directed to the BCAT team. It has been updated.