August 10, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Stopping the wave
By†Jody Reese

Given the recent shootings on the West Side and a murder on the east side, itís easy to conclude that Manchester is in the midst of a crime wave. Admittedly, the news is not good. Calls to police have increased to the highest levels in years.

Board of Mayor and Aldermen Chairman Mike Lopez has proposed adding 16 auxiliary police officers to the ranks to help with some of the more basic policing, such as serving summons, directing traffic, securing crime scenes and processing suspects. This frees up regular cops to patrol the streets.

This is a good and fast start to help calm the streets. Though it may not in itself stop the violence, it does provide us with some confidence that, at the very least, something is being done.

However, adding more police to the streets is a short-term solution to the long-term problem of drugs, poverty and boredom.

As long as we have bored kids in poverty and inexpensive drugs, weíll have problems.

Like any complicated problem this one canít be solved with a bumper sticker solution. It takes a multi-pronged approach that involves both the stick and the carrot.

For starters police and community leaders need to get tough with all forms of criminal activity, vandalism, double-parked cars ó you name it and the police should be all over it in these higher-crime neighborhoods.

One of the prongs could be more emphasis on improving the neighborhoods where we see most of the violence occurring, the center city and West Side behind West High School. Simple things such as more street lights, better trash control and the removal of abandoned cars can make a huge difference. Community leaders, including the aldermen, should start publicly putting pressure on absentee landlords that allow drug dealing from their property. Itís unfortunate that the trash cop was cut from the budget this year, because itís that kind of attention that will force landlords to keep their buildings clean and create an atmosphere that is less amiable to criminals.

We need to make life difficult for drug dealers.

Then we need to provide many of these kids a safe place to go after school and during the summer. We should support programs at the Boys and Girls Club, local churches, AmeriCorps and any other group that gets these kids doing something other than hanging around the street corners waiting for trouble to happen. Perhaps, private businesses could put together a fund to employ many of these kids to pick up trash, cut grass or pull weeds at our city sidewalks and streets. Not only would this make the city look better, but the resulting drop in vandalism and crimes would improve the cityís image, helping all us businesses attract more customers. Many of the bars and restaurants in the city have reported a slow summer. Gas prices, no doubt, are part of the cause, but it might also be the news week after week of a shooting or other violent act in the Queen City.

For youth who are finished with high school or have dropped out, but donít have a car, better public transportation would help connect them with jobs on South Willow Street. Manchester is caught between having to fund a public transportation system and not wanting to fund it enough so itís really useful for residents. Unemployed young men in this country have always led violence.

This problem will not be solved overnight nor can the police and aldermen do it alone. It will take all of us ó in the business community, churches and civic organizations.

And now, itís time to get started.


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