MANCHESTER — The anger and frustration expressed during a Police Department community meeting a year ago was replaced Tuesday night with expressions of support and community activism.
Last September, more than 100 people crowded into the Officer Michael Briggs Community Center/Manchester Police Athletic League on Beech Street shortly after a rash of nearly 250 burglaries in the months of July and August.
Police Chief David Mara said they had bad news to report last year but didn’t want to keep it to themselves.
“Even last year, we considered it a good meeting,” he said. “We can’t worry about whether it’s going to be a happy meeting or angry. We can’t worry about that. We have to have these meetings.”
This year, burglaries are down slightly — there were 368 from January through June of 2013, compared to 358 in the first six months of this year — while most other crimes are level, according to figures provided by the Police Department at Tuesday’s meeting.
The complaints outlined by the roughly 50 people at the forum involved mostly panhandling, loud noise and traffic, instead of violent crime or burglary.
Mara said police have stepped up enforcement, hoping to keep this July being a repeat of last year’s burglary numbers. Part of the way police do that, he said, is holding such community forums, where not only can residents ask questions, but they receive a home and personal security tutorial by Officer Paul Rondeau.
“We’re hoping to cut that number to well below half” of last July’s 148 burglaries, Mara said. “We’re making some progress, and I think that a lot of that has to do with getting education out to people.”
Officers said that, if they can hammer home one lesson to people, it is to lock their homes and cars. In about half of car burglaries, people reported their cars were not locked. The majority of other half, Officer Matthew D. Barter told the audience, were people who could not remember whether they locked their car.
“People are not locking their cars,” Rondeau said.
Thieves, Rondeau said, hate noise and attention and, more likely than not, will not break a window to get into a house or car.
Rondeau told the audience that police patrols can only do so much and need help from residents who are willing to call police to report suspicious activity.
“These are your neighborhoods. You know if that red car doesn’t belong in that driveway. It’s really important for you to be observant,” he said.
Mara told the group that Manchester is, when compared to many other cities, a safe community, but that keeping a criminal element out will take work from police and the community at large.
“Let’s not let people come in here and wreck Manchester,” he said. “Let’s send the message that if you’re going to sell drugs, you’re going to buy drugs, you’re going to do these things, go somewhere else because we are all going to stick together. Our neighborhood is not going to just stand by and take that.”