Police propose ordinance to abate nuisance activity

BERLIN – A proposed new ordinance would target residents whose “reckless or intentional behavior” requires a frequent police response.
Police Chief Peter Morency and Lt. Dan Buteau outlined the proposed ordinance to the city council at Monday’s work session. The pair stressed the ordinance is aimed at the small minority of residents who tax police resources with frequent and repeat nuisance activities.
“This is not about charging to call the police,” Morency said. “We have some high maintenance people responsible for hundreds of calls,” he said.
Under the ordinance, residents cited for more than one nuisance activity in a 12-month period will be fined $250 to $1,000 for the first violation. Subsequent offenses within a 12-month period will be subject to a fine of $500 to $1,000. The proposed ordinance describes nuisance activities as disorderly conduct, making a false report, animal violations, protective   involving intoxication, littering, and recklessly causing a situation requiring an emergency response.
Morency said the ordinance would grant the chief the discretion to issue a written warning instead of a citation. He said there are times when people go through difficult periods and the department wants to be able to recognize that.
The ordinance also allows police to assess the offender for all response, investigation, and court expenses incurred by the department.
By allowing the city to fine repeat offenders, the chief said the ordinance helps prevent the cost of such enforcement from being shifted onto the taxpayer.
Councilor Mike Rozek asked what happens if a violator refused to pay the fine. Buteau, who serves as the department’s prosecutor, said there could be a review hearing, the court would allow community service, or the violator could be sentenced to the House of Correction.
Mayor Paul Grenier said he supports the proposed ordinance. He said no resident should be intimidated by the actions of others. He estimated eight to ten percent of Berlin’s population exhibits the behavior targeted in the ordinance. He said a majority of citizens are law abiding.
Councilor Peter Higbee asked if the city attorney had reviewed the ordinance and the officers said it has gone through legal review. Councilor Paula Benski asked if there are other communities with similar ordinances. Morency said Berlin is in the forefront of using such measures to spur changes in criminal behavior. He said other communities are contacting Berlin police to inquire about such efforts.
City Manager Patrick MacQueen said it is a different approach to the issue but works similar to a parking ticket. The offender can contest the citation in court.
Grenier said if the measure reduces nuisance calls by ten to fifteen percent, it will be worth the effort.
Morency said he will now review the proposed ordinance with the entire department and police commission. He said he is certain it will have the support of the rank and file. He said he hopes the ordinance can have its first reading by the council next week.