Thursday, June 13, 2002

Police keep Cape safe on graduation weekend

Published in the Current

It’s the Friday before high school graduation in Cape Elizabeth, and Sgt. Kevin Kennedy is sitting in a cruiser at Kettle Cove with his lights off. He turns on his radar and waits.

As if on cue, about 20 cars form a line snaking down the road, past Kennedy’s car, through the parking lot and back out again. Each car has a teen-ager at the wheel, and some have a number of passengers.

The Current decided to ride along with Cape police last Friday to see how they handled graduation weekend.

With graduation looming, some teens were celebrating. Police were out patrolling to make sure the festivities remained safe.

The three officers on duty were Kennedy (from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m.), Officer Allen Westberry (from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.), and Officer James Starnes (from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.). The Current spent most of the night with Kennedy.

Kennedy starts with a look around his cruiser, making sure everything’s in place and working, from the road flares and reflective vest in the trunk to the radar detector and video-recording system on his dashboard.

Driving out of the station, Kennedy’s first stop is Kettle Cove, which he will visit several times during the night.

The Cape Elizabeth Water Extrication Team is leaving from the cove to shuttle two biologists out to Richmond Island to tie down a dead whale, so it will be there in the morning.

The scientists want to learn how it died and take tissue samples to keep tabs on the whale population in the Gulf of Maine.

He gets called back to the station to take an accident report for something that happened the day before, and then returns to the cove. On this occasion, he saw the procession of cars come by.

Kennedy expressed surprise at the number of students, but lets them go by. He keeps an eye on the radar, though, hoping someone will come flying down the road. After the cars all leave, he waits some more, and a few return to check whether the police car is still there. It is.

Then he meets up with a state park ranger about to go off duty. The ranger is surprised, too, at the number of cars that just went by. Kennedy decides to come back later in the evening.

Leaving Kettle Cove, Kennedy heads down Route 77 onto Bowery Beach Road and turns into Charles E. Jordan Road, leading to the Sprague estate, Ram Island Farm.

“Let’s go down here, and make sure everything is quiet,” Kennedy said. The road, he said is a frequent spot for joggers and cyclists, but is lightly traveled. A person who gets hurt might have to wait some time for help.

As he goes by, Kennedy eyes the parking lot at Jordan Hall, on the corner of Bowery Beach Road. Sometimes cars are broken into there, because thieves know people are walking or running on nearby roads and are unlikely to return in time to witness a crime.

Finding nothing but an elderly couple out for a drive, Kennedy heads back toward the center of town on Fowler Road. He’s trying to cover ground but in a way that doesn’t fit any pattern from night to night.

“I try to make sure I go through every neighborhood on each shift,” Kennedy said.

But by varying his schedule and patrol route, he makes sure criminals can’t be certain they’ll be safe.

At the corner of Fenway Road, Kennedy turns off Fowler Road and heads to the end of the cul-de-sac to see if anyone is parked there. It is a common parking area for kids heading out to party on the shore of Great Pond.

At the corner of Fenway, he notices that the street sign is missing. Not just the sign with the name of the street, but the entire pole has been removed. He calls it in and heads to nearby Susan Road to make sure the sign is on that corner. It is.

Still making his way down Fowler Road toward the center of town, Kennedy notices a truck going the other way. It is pulling a trailer that has no lights. He turns around and tries to catch up, but reaches the corner of Bowery Beach Road before deciding to give up the chase. He figures the truck has turned off or pulled into a driveway.

Kennedy makes a third effort to head to the center of town, but it is not to be. Dispatcher John Swinehart calls on the radio, reporting that someone has just called the police station to complain about unknown vehicles and people heading down to the beach near Richmond Terrace, a private road near Crescent Beach.

Swinehart also alerts Westberry, patrolling the north side of town that night. Westberry heads down to help out if anything happens, and to provide another set of eyes.

Pulling into Richmond, Kennedy notices a sedan with three girls in it, but they are leaving the area, so he isn’t concerned. Moving down the road a bit, he stops and gets out to check a car parked beside the road.

There’s nothing suspicious inside, so he moves on and leaves the area, having found nothing.

Kennedy heads over to Kettle Cove again and parks with his lights off farther into the lot. He gets out to check on a couple from Rhode Island who are parked there. They’re fine and have just finished a walk on the beach with their dog.

Some more cars come down into the cove and loop through the parking lot when they see Kennedy’s car there. After the traffic subsides, he drives back over to Richmond Terrace, where Westberry has made a traffic stop.

Coming down Richmond Terrace, Kennedy finds himself following a car with a broken taillight. The car pulls into a driveway just in front of where Westberry has stopped a car, in the middle of the one-lane road.

Getting out, Kennedy looks over at the car he has been behind and eyes the license plate’s registration sticker.

“He expired back in March. This is a good one,” Kennedy said.

The driver is a 17-year-old male, and Kennedy asks him to get out of the car. Kennedy searches the car, coming up with several cigarettes and a six-pack of beer.

While Kennedy and Westberry are talking to the driver, a few teens walk by, heading toward the beach. The officers ask what they’re up to, and they say they’re just leaving a friend’s house. When pressed, though, they are unable to name the friend or say what they were doing.

“We were coming to see what was going on over here,” one kid admitted.

“Nothing’s going on. Goodbye,” Kennedy replied.

The driver Westberry stopped was originally just stopped for trespassing, as Richmond Terrace is a private road. It turns out, though, that she has had her license for only 86 days, four days shy of the day she is allowed to have passengers. But there are two other teens in her car.

A search of that car turns up a partially-full bottle of rum and two water bottles also containing rum.

The driver steps out of the car, and one of her passengers, who has had his license long enough to drive passengers, takes the wheel.

The officers and teens are tied up at the scene for about 45 minutes with car searches, license checks and paperwork. The blue strobes on Westberry’s car, and spotlights from both patrol cars illuminate the neighborhood.

But even after three-quarters of an hour, the stop is not done.

Police Chief Neil Williams wants his officers to contact parents when kids are caught with alcohol.

Kennedy follows the car he stopped, with the broken taillight, to the teen’s home.

The boy goes in to wake up his parents, but nobody is home. Kennedy knocks a couple of times, radios dispatch for the phone number, and calls on a cellphone he carries in his car.

There is no answer, so Kennedy gives the kid his business card and asks him to tell his parents to call the police station the next day.

The officers meet back at the police station to do the rest of the paperwork for each complaint, and to photograph the items they have confiscated.

Starnes comes on duty and reports what he has seen on his way to the station.

“They’re massing at Cumby,” he said. Teens are gathering in their cars. Kennedy and Starnes take just a few seconds to decide what spots they’ll pay special attention to for the rest of the night.

The two will continue to follow the teens around town, fitting in the required checks on all businesses in town through the rest of the night.