Haberek focuses on crimes in Pawcatuck

Stonington — First Selectman Ed Haberek is requesting a meeting with the Board of Police Commissioners next month to discuss the police department's strategy for dealing with crime in downtown Pawcatuck.

"We need to have a meeting to discuss how to change the climate down there," he said Tuesday. "Some of the business owners are concerned about crime. We need to take a collaborative approach down there."

Haberek said that the town already has taken a "vigorous approach" to forcing owners of dilapidated downtown buildings to upgrade their properties.

He said the downtown needs to be safe if the town expects to attract new businesses there, such as a developer who is considering transforming the rundown Campbell Grain property into affordable housing for the elderly.

Haberek's request to appear before the Board of Police Commissioners comes three days after a man went on a vandalism and burglary spree through the downtown that began at McGill Chevrolet and two months after two men broke into several Pawcatuck homes, including one that was occupied.

Chief of Police J. Darren Stewart said Tuesday that police quickly identified the suspects in both cases and made arrests within an hour of the incidents.

Adding to the perception of trouble was a Saturday night incident in which a downtown Pawcatuck man shot and killed himself during a standoff with police on White Rock Road.

McGill Chevrolet owner Sean McGill said Tuesday that for most of the past 25 years, the business was never the target of a burglary. But over the past six months, it has been broken into twice, and cars in his lot have been damaged by two hit-and-run crashes and vandalism. He said he now arrives at work to find beer bottles and vomit in his parking lot.

The situation has forced McGill to take additional measures, such as installing more security cameras, motion-sensitive lights and bars over some windows.

McGill, who commended police for doing a good job, said he will meet next week with Haberek, Stewart, the fire marshal and a neighboring property owner.

"Unfortunate things are happening in the area that haven't happened before. I'm not sure if it's different people in town or the bad economy," he said. "But I work too hard to throw money away every week on people who don't care about what they do."

Monthly police department statistics, though, do not show any trend toward increasing criminal incidents downtown since August.

Stewart said he plans to review the statistics and the department's strategy in preparation for the April 11 Board of Police Commissioners' meeting.

In his letter to the board Tuesday, Haberek wrote, "With the recent incidents that have happened in Pawcatuck during the last several months, I feel it is again time to revisit the approach to addressing situations in Pawcatuck."

Haberek said recent press headlines "do not shed a good light on the outcome of the Pawcatuck approach."

In August 2011, Haberek raised similar concerns with the police commissioners after business owners and residents contacted him.

Haberek asked to be placed on the board's April 11 agenda. He said he also has been invited to attend a Downtown Business Association meeting in Westerly, where Westerly Police Chief Edward St. Clair will discuss his town's approach to policing the adjacent downtown.

Haberek also has asked Stewart to email him Pawcatuck statistics for the last six months.

Stewart said his officers have been doing a great job downtown.

"When we have something going on, we go out and find the people who did it," he said.

Stewart said he also has been talking regularly with St. Clair to discuss their departments' respective efforts and how they can continue to work together.

Stewart said he will continue to look at any concerns that downtown residents have and work to resolve them.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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