Stonington police efforts to make drug arrests criticized

Stonington - A veteran Westerly Police Department detective who lives in Pawcatuck has criticized the Stonington police department's drug enforcement efforts in an email to First Selectman Ed Haberek.

In his March email, Detective Steven Johnson said he has "witnessed multiple hand to hand drug deals, in the open, in Downtown Pawcatuck."

He added that he is aware that on a daily basis, drug deals are being conducted in a local parking lot.

Johnson calls it troubling that the department made minimal drug arrests in 2012, which also appears to have been the case in 2013. In a department annual report, he said the "problem is not even mentioned nor a plan to be pro active and combat it."

"They mention (adding) another Detective to the Cold Case Squad? Are you kidding me? How about a few Detectives working narcotics and possibly teaming with us on the other side of the river," he wrote.

Police Chief J. Darren Stewart said Friday that his department made 11 drug arrests through the first seven months of this year, compared to 13 during the same time period last year.

In addition, because of a change in state law two years ago, possession of small amounts of marijuana are no longer reported as arrests, as they are now infractions under state law.

"The Stonington police department always appreciates information regarding illegal drug activity in Stonington and works diligently to address those concerns, not only through its patrol division but its detectives," said Stewart, who added he saw Johnson's email for the first time on Thursday.

He said his department also works with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force and Westerly police to address quality of life issues that cross the borders of the two towns.

Johnson wrote that the area "is suffering a major heroin epidemic" with the direct result being property crimes, larcenies, shoplifting, financial crimes and more.

"I have small children that are growing up in Pawcatuck and do not want them exposed to this type of wide open drug activity and crime," Johnson wrote. "I am hoping that the Police Administration just failed to mention this so as to not give away their plan. If that is not the case then they need to get their heads out of the sand and open their eyes. I know for a fact the Officers of SPD are aware of the problem but I get the impression it is not a priority of the administration."

While Haberek said he shared Johnson's concerns with Police Chief J. Darren Stewart, Capt. Jerry Desmond and the Board of Police Commissioners, Johnson's email was never listed on any of the agendas for the board's seven meetings since or mentioned in any of the minutes of those meetings. Police-related correspondence is typically listed on the board's agendas.

Contacted Thursday, Johnson declined comment on his email, saying he plans to attend the Board of Police Commissioners' next meeting on Sept. 11.

In his letter to Haberek, Johnson said he was writing as a "taxpayer in the Town of Stonington with a great deal of Law Enforcement history, not in my work capacity."

"I have been doing my best to stay away from criticizing Stonington Police. I obviously know first hand the difficulties that face us in Law Enforcement today," he wrote.

j.wojtas@theday.com
Twitter: @joewojtas

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