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New London - From public urination and drunkenness to aggressive panhandling and drug use, residents and business owners told city councilors Monday they want to see an end to what they described as behavior so bad they are afraid to walk in their own neighborhood.
Nine people from the Bank and Blinman street area of downtown, some from Harbour Towers, addressed the public safety committee of the City Council to voice their angst. Much of the frustration centered on the area of the Ravi convenience store and the "The Island," a grassy patch and popular hangout in front of the privately-owned Shaw Mansion.
"A normal part of my walks is to see people urinating, defecating, vomiting, panhandling, intimidating … ," said Bank Street resident Michael McJunkins. "It happens continually."
Others voiced similar sentiment, complaining about the loud obnoxious behavior and heckling or people outright demanding money.
"It's very intimidating and frightening walking alone. I don't like to do it," said Laura Miranda Hansen. "I love this city. I think this city has incredible potential but with this situation who wants to come here. It's disturbing and sad."
Tambria Moore, who also spoke at Monday's meeting, suggested the city should ensure area case managers for the homeless "are managing their case load."
But others rejected the notion the problem is homeless population alone and more about "large groups of wasted unruly people," said Steve Schneidermeyer.
Kyle Hurst, owner of the Seahund Restaurant, said he's seen some recent improvements because of more visible police patrols but said groups of people blocking the path of patrons is "going to severely impact business."
City Councilor Erica Richardson said she had called on residents to air their concerns and already set up a meeting between police and some of the residents in an effort to identify the problems. The solutions are not so easy.
"What can we do to send a message that it won't be tolerated in the city of New London?" Richardson asked.
She said it was not the first impression the city should be giving to residents and first-time visitors alike.
The city has already announced an anti-panhandling campaign but Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said the quality of life issues are a difficult thing to address immediately with the department at a critical low point in personnel.
Extra manpower, when available, is assigned to downtown patrols, Reichard said
"We've been actively out there with the limited manpower we have," he said.
In the absence of officers, Reichard said there may be some environmental designs to address some issues, things like better lighting, fences or tree trimming. He also raised the idea of a downtown ambassador, uniformed minimum wage employees who could not only show a friendly face to tourists, but act as the "eyes and ears for officers."
He said residents should not hesitate to talk to patrol officers or contact the department about specific issues, either with formal complaints or through the anonymous tip line.
Police Capt. Todd Bergeson said the department has already reached out to the board of directors at the New London County Historical Society and in the process of getting approval to place no trespassing signs in front of Shaw Mansion.
Richardson said she was willing to facilitate more meetings with police if there were complaints from other neighborhoods across town.
One of the complaints comes from the Williams Street area, behind Jennings School, where on Monday several dozen youths played on the basketball court and playground and watched cars from atop a roadside wall.
Richardson said some area residents had reported gang-like activity.
Reichard said there has been criminal mischief and vandalism reported in the area, including some issues with unregistered dirt bikes. He said the school is working to better situate cameras in the area but for the most part there are kids playing in an area designated as a play area.
The criminal issues, he said, has come from just a few in the group and has been addressed. Going forward, Reichard said, is more of a maintenance issue.