Thursday, August 22, 2002

Idle teens clash with cops on Cape

Published in the Current; co-written with Brendan Moran

Cape Elizabeth Police Officer Mark Dorval was driving on Shore Road late one night in early June when he spotted several large dark objects blocking the road. He swerved and nearly hit them.

When he got out of his car, he found 10 rocks that had been removed from a wall at a Delano Park entrance. The largest rock weighed 120 pounds. Police
believe the rocks were laid across the road by teenagers and could have killed someone if police hadn’t discovered them first.

The rocks were just one example of what police and Town Manager Mike McGovern say has been a problem in Cape this summer: teenagers partying and vandalizing. Cape teenagers say they’re not always to blame; kids from other communities sometimes do the vandalism. They also complain they have nothing to do in town, and police spend most of their time chasing after them.

Although police and McGovern attributed most of the vandalism to a small percentage of the kids in town, they said it has been worse this year than in past years. “Every time (teenagers) tend to congregate, there are problems,” said Police Chief Neil Williams.

“I think the big problem is most officers see a group of kids and immediately think the kids are smoking pot and drinking,” said Joe Thornton, 18. “If you want to go hang out at (Kettle Cove) and you’re honestly not smoking or
drinking, I don’t think there’s a reason to be chasing us out of there.”

McGovern said he’s seen teenage criminal mischief go in cycles. Police dealt with a spike in teenage crime a couple years ago. Things have quieted down
since then. But this summer they’ve seen a resurgence.

Williams said police are making twice as many arrests this year as they were at this time last year. Calls to police that used to stop by 1 or 2 a.m. are continuing until 3:30 or 4 a.m.

McGovern did not want to describe all the vandalism that has occurred, because he is afraid other teenagers will copy the vandalism that has already been committed.

But in the last several months, cars have been broken into; mailboxes have been damaged; the Little League shack at Lions Field was damaged; the Snack Shack at Crescent Beach was broken into; two trees at the high school were chopped down; and the word “Stags,” the Cheverus mascot, was written with grass killer at the high school track.

“It’s all connected to kids partying and drinking,” said Detective Paul Fenton. “Anything that’s in their path home will be destroyed.”

Nothing to do
Teenagers who spoke to the Current didn’t deny that some party and some even vandalize property. They said part of the problem is that after dark neither teenagers or police have much to do in Cape.

They said teenagers from other towns have caused some of the vandalism. They also said that some teenagers vandalize property on the way home from parties that have been broken up by police.

“There really is nothing for teenagers to do in this town,” said Alex Herbert, 17. “So a lot of teenagers go out in the woods and start a fire and have a good time. And I think that kind of adds to the problem.”

“It’s not even Cape kids who do it,” said Anthony Struzziero, 15. “A lot of South Portland kids come into town and mess with stuff.”

Teenagers complained that police spend all their time going after them. They said police often pull over cars if they see that it’s full of teenagers. When they go to Kettle Cove or Fort Williams to party, they said, police go out of their way to find them, sometimes using a night-vision scope.

“I’ve been in an experience where what we were doing was wrong, but I felt cops going out of their way to find out what we were doing was (itself) wrong,” said Herbert.

“I think we’re unfairly targeted, just because they really don’t have anything else to do. There’s not enough real crime in this town,” said Sam McCarthy, 18.

But police feel like they have plenty to do. Williams said they’re getting so many calls on nights and weekends that they could use more officers at those

“It’s difficult for police to pick on kids,” said Fenton. He said police are too busy with calls and patrols to go after kids who aren’t causing trouble. He also said breaking up parties limits noise complaints and prevents criminal activity that happens when parties end on their own.

“I feel even if they are targeting kids, there’s a reason to because lately there’s been a lot of property damage,” said Lindsay Tinsman, 19, the daughter of Dispatcher Greg Tinsman.

Nowhere to go
In June, the Cape Town Council ran into another rock, “the rock,” as it’s known, after residents who live across from it wrote a letter threatening legal action if the town didn’t curb the partying and graffiti. The residents, Dennis and Ann Flavin, complained the graffiti was ugly and often laden with obscenities.

They also complained that the graffiti writing was often accompanied by loud partying.

Some teenagers and parents, however, argued painting the rock was a tradition. While the tradition has been considered a positive one by many since teenagers painted a flag after Sept. 11, McGovern said in past years painting the rock has often been linked to drinking.

The Town Council decided to resolve the debate by having police crack down on activity at the rock after dark.

Now the rock has become one more place where kids can’t be after dark, perpetuating a pattern that has been in Cape for years. Teenagers get together in a place where they’re not supposed to be, and police ask them to move.

“That’s happened forever,” said McGovern. “But, you know, the folks down at Kettle Cove deserve their peace too.”

“They want a place to congregate, and there is no good place,” said Chief Williams.

The new Community Center will open later this month. But the center will be devoted mostly to seniors. And even if some of the space at the center were devoted to teens, it wouldn’t necessarily help.

“We’d still do the same stuff,” said Struzziero. “There would be less of it, but the kids who want to party will go out and party.”

“The mischief that happens in Cape, an awful lot of it happens between 1:30 and 3 a.m.,” said McGovern. “I don’t think there’s anything the town could provide at that time.”