MANCHESTER — Alderman Tim Baines said he’s hearing more complaints about aggressive panhandlers and urged nearby towns to do more to help their own residents with substance abuse issues.
“It’s definitely a concern whether you’re doing business or visiting our downtown,” said Baines, an Elm Street restaurant owner. “The police presence certainly helps, but it’s a complex issue.”
Manchester police on Friday tweeted they were boosting patrols.
“In an effort to better serve the city and address community concerns about illegal activity on Elm St, Manchester Police are increasing patrols in the area,” the tweet read. “Cruisers, officers on foot and motorcycles will all be out.”
Baines said he’s hearing more complaints about aggressive panhandling and people reporting being harassed in and out of their vehicles — acts that Baines believes often are tied to drug use.
“I see drugs being done out in the open” on Elm Street and along side streets, he said.
“You want to help anybody that is trying to turn their life around,” Baines said in an interview. “I wouldn’t go as far as turn them away, but continuing to put pressure on the other communities to be able to service their own residents. I do feel it’s overwhelming our system.”
Manchester hosts a Safe Station program, where people with substance issues can seek help at city fire stations, as well as the New Horizons homeless shelter and other counseling services. He suggested the city look at relocating some services outside of the downtown area.
Mayor Joyce Craig said in an interview that “we’ve increased patrols downtown” that have been ongoing for the past few months.
The mayor called Elm Street “very safe.”
Police spokesman Heather Hamel said the department has received “just a lot of complaints about illegal activity. Trying to stay on top of it.”
Hamel said the department does this every year.
“These are random patrols designed to address a wide array of quality of life issues that occur at all hours on Elm Street and throughout the city,” Hamel said in an email. “While there will be some overtime incurred, the majority of the officers who are patrolling are on their assigned shifts. The increased patrols began this spring and will continue through the warmer months. Business owners and citizens have concerns and police want to address them.”
Baines said he talks regularly with the police chief and part of the problem involves people using “spice” or synthetic marijuana, which Baines says puts people in an “almost walking dead” state for 15 minutes.
Other concerns from the public are personal belongings left on sidewalks, often by homeless people.
Elm Street, Baines said, is “the face of Manchester” and “in many ways it keeps getting worse.”