October 19, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Still a safe city
By†Jody Reese

Compared to any large city, the center part of Manchester is safe, but early Monday morning that didnít matter when Manchester police officer Michael Briggs was shot.

The shooting of Briggs caps a series of violent events in the city, including the armed robbery of a Mexican eatery on Wilson Street and an ever-increasing series of shootings.

This should not be the story of Manchester. It is not the story of Manchester. This is a safe city that should be leading northern New England in growth and prosperity ó and is in many ways, but that story isnít getting out.

Unfortunately, the violence will be the story of Manchester if city leaders, both public and private, do not get their act together and present Manchester as a safe and growing city. Part of that, of course, is ensuring that Manchester is, in fact, safe.

To do that Manchester needs to ante up and hire more police officers. As it is now, we have fewer than 200 officers on the streets. At any one time only three officers are patrolling all of the West Side, a community of 47,000 people. Clearly, more officers are needed.

Led by Chairman Mike Lopez city government is in the process of hiring a dozen or so auxiliary officers to take some of the more mundane work off patrolling officers, freeing them up to be on patrol more. On top of that the city recently hired six new officers, but with recent retirements that hasnít helped increase the number of officers on the street.

Itís no secret that by FBI numbers Manchester should have 250 or so officers on the streets. Because Manchester has historically been such a safe city it has gotten away with having far fewer. As crime has moved up the highway from large cities and calls to police have increased to more than 200 a day, Manchester may need a larger police force.

Clearly, that would come with a large cost, footed by property owners, who seem fed up with the current rate of taxes. So whatís a city to do?

Do we have a choice? What would happen to Manchester if people didnít want to live, play or work here? The resulting decline in property values would be devastating.

Second, why canít the state help us out more? The social problems that contribute to crime, such as poverty and alcohol and substance abuse canít be solved by Manchester alone nor are they just a Manchester problem. The density and anonymity of the city provide a perfect hiding place for many of societyís ills. Halfway houses are located here, not in New Boston. For those reasons, the state should recognize our added burden and help pay a larger portion of costs for police and the social services that can help defuse violence.

In the end, itís up to the leaders of Manchester to make sure the problems are fixed and that New England knows this is not the story of Manchester ó that the story of Manchester is renewal, growth and success.