Haberek attacks crime in Pawcatuck

Stonington - First Selectman Ed Haberek presented the Board of Police Commissioners Thursday night with a plan to address problems in downtown Pawcatuck, likening one part of the strategy to the one used by then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the late 1990s to dramatically cut serious crime by cracking down on misdemeanors and quality-of-life issues.

Haberek said that police could use ordinances and misdemeanor laws to remove "signs of disorder" such as loitering, broken windows and public drinking.

Among his other suggestions were increasing police foot patrols, informing apartment owners of what the law says about who they rent to, mapping "hot spots" so police can be assigned to those areas and continuing to revitalize the downtown.

Last month, Haberek requested the meeting to discuss police strategy for dealing with crime in the downtown after a man went on a vandalism and burglary spree and two men broke into several Pawcatuck homes.

He said the town has to discuss how to change the downtown climate because it needs to be safe to attract new businesses. The town, meanwhile, has been using a blight ordinance to try and force property owners to repair dilapidated buildings or sell them to someone who will.

Haberek said he raised similar issues with the board and police in 2011 and 2012 and he was back again after hearing more concerns from residents and businesses.

Lisa Konicki, the executive director of the Greater Westerly Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce, told the board she does not feel there is a rampant crime problem in the downtown and feels safe walking around at night with her children.

"We don't want to send a message out to people so that they are fearful about coming into the downtown," she said.

Former police Commissioner Steve Coan pointed out that there are no Pawcatuck residents on the board and urged selectmen to appoint one when a vacancy occurs.

All who spoke Thursday agreed that police are doing an excellent job responding to calls and arresting those who cause problems.

Police Capt. Jerry Desmond said that work to improve the perception of downtown Pawcatuck has been going on for much longer than three years and that there has been a constant need to make improvements.

"It's a challenge. You have to keep working on it," he said.

Police Chief J. Darren Stewart said there have not been any big spikes in the number of calls or arrests in the downtown recently and there are far fewer problems than 20 years ago.

But he said factors such as mental health problems, transient housing, homelessness and an influx of people from Westerly on weekend nights who take advantage of the later bar closing time in Connecticut all create issues for police.

He said police plan to realign beats to focus on downtown, assign community service officers earlier to the area, begin bike patrols with Westerly police who they will continue to communicate with, focus on problem hot spots and take advantage of business security cameras.

"Our officers do a tremendous job of bringing suspects to justice. But we need help from the community to report what they see right away," Stewart said. "Our internal motto is 'no call is too small.' If you call, we will send somebody."

"We don't want problems down there," he added. "We want to work on solutions. Crime will exists in any community, but we work hard to make this a safe place."

The board, Haberek and police all agreed they would work with residents and businesses owners on the issue.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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