More than 100 people turned out for a community meeting on crime in Manchester Thursday evening.
Many expressed frustration over the rise in crime and pressed police for answers on how they’re working to make the city safer.
Longtime resident Doris Ploss says she’s never seen her city like this.
“Manchester’s changed an awful lot, with all the crime and the drugs. We didn’t have that. It’s very bad.”
She lives on the west side and, like many over the summer, was a victim of burglary.
“Of course, at my age, we never locked the doors. Now my doors are all locked.”
Like many, she’s looking for answers.
The Manchester Police Department called the community meeting as a way to give residents a chance to raise those concerns and to help educate.
That’s what officer Paul Rondeau was doing, as he went over different types of home security.
“Unscrew the light bulb. Screw that in. And then the light bulb goes right on top, and now you have a motion sensor light. These work great.”
But that type of insight didn’t do much to ease the fears of citizens like Victoria Sullivan.
She says someone stole a package from her backdoor while she and her children were home. It included party favors for her son’s birthday.
She says all she’s hearing about is how police are reacting to crime.
“I want to know as a parent and a citizen, what is going to prevent this from happening? We don’t use the walking trails anymore. I don’t take my children without my husband to the walking trails. I don’t feel safe. I’m not enjoying my city anymore.”
Police Chief David Mara says police are doing what they can, but many of the burglaries are fueled by drug addiction, and that’s an issue of treatment.
“So my interest is putting as many people as we can in jail, in prison, so they cannot do this. So that’s what we want to do. We have put a lot of people in jail; we want to put more in jail.”
He goes over the department’s crime statistics, which are on display on large, cardboard posters.
In July of last year, police recorded 90 burglaries.
This summer, that spiked to 148.
“Now that’s not an anomaly. Something happened, something…that rise jumped, so something different was going on in the city.”
Communications manager Raechel Page explains how in dispatch, calls can pile up quickly, which means having to prioritize resources.
“There are times where they’re looking at that screen, and I’ve been there, and I have nobody to send. I’ve got officers that are already on a call, on that domestic in progress, I can’t clear them. They’re on that burglary, I cannot clear them.”
Those kinds of delays don’t sit well with Kathy Warnock.
She says her house was broken into twice over the summer.
“I asked the detective then, how long is it going to take to get these prints back? He told me it’s going to take over two years to get these fingerprints back.”
Mara says it can actually take anywhere from nine months to two years to get fingerprints back from the state crime lab.
He says he’s looking into a grant to purchase a $38,000 kit, allowing the officers to do that analysis themselves.
That’s when Mayor Ted Gatsas stood up and pledged to find the money.
“If we as a city can’t step up and find $38,000, we found 300 and some odd thousand dollars to buy police Tasers. We will find $38,000 to get you that kit.”
And with several city officials in the audience, Mara continued his push for more officers.
“I’m telling you, you can ask the aldermen, you can ask the mayor, you can ask the police commissioners, how many times have I said, we need at the very least between 250 police officers if not 275.”
Roughly 220 officers are in the department right now.
No easy answers came out of the meeting, though Mara says he is working to get some officers trained to use fingerprinting kits.
He also plans to better track convicts on parole for property crimes.
But all you had to do was step outside to know that officers still have their work cut out for them.
Outside the community center, a woman flags down an officer, saying a man was driving away with hundreds of dollars’ worth of items for her baby.
An officer jumps into his cruiser, on the chase.