The Chelsea City Council and City Manager Jay Ash are in the midst of hotly debating an omnibus 10-point crime plan unveiled late last year and now getting an airing on the floor of the City Council.
Last Tuesday, Jan. 21, the Council spend hours talking about the plan, and addressed it once again on Monday night.
So far, much of the plan has gotten rave reviews, but parts of it have met stiff resistance from some corners of the Council – and once again – the frequency and length of walking patrols seems to be at the heart of the matter.
Another point of contention, likewise, is the possibility of between $400,00 and $500,000 in city grants for street intervention with high-risk youth. Though there are some caveats, the grants are scheduled to go to Roca, which some believe is already extremely well-funded and doesn’t need taxpayer money.
All of those, as well as personality conflicts within the Council, are up for debate and are getting just such a sounding off.
The plan was born last summer when then-Council President Dan Cortell and City Manager Jay Ash and Police Chief Brian Kyes put their heads together to address some of the lingering crime and quality of life issues. That plan was released late last year, with one highlight being the hiring of five new police officers on a matching grant.
Council President Matt Frank said the Council is taking up the plan as 10 separate issues with 10 separate votes and many of those votes will be taken up Monday night. He said he fully supports the plan, and he defended the City money in the plan being set aside for Roca.
“I don’t think it can be debated that the work Roca is doing in Chelsea is good for the City,” he said. “I think some people are having an issue with spending money on these kids who are high-risk, but if no one keeps after them, they will only get worse. Roca has turned around quite a few people…The funding we’re looking at would only go into effect if they get their state money cut. We’re not just giving them a check for them to continue doing their work. If we can advocate with our state delegation to keep their funding, then we won’t use this money. If they get cut half, only half of the money would get used.”
Meanwhile, City Councillor Joe Perlatonda – who has been very vocal about public safety in the newspaper and at Council meetings – said he isn’t so sure he buys into the whole 10-point plan. First of all, he said he would have liked the whole Council to be involved, but he felt he was shut out.
“I think we should have all been involved and sat down and discussed it a lot more,” he said. “I guess one councillor and the police chief and city manager came up with this last summer. This is $2.4 million and we’re getting like two meetings to get it passed. I think we need more time. I’m not buying into all of it. They want a slam dunk unanimous vote and I don’t know if I can give them a slam dunk.”
He also said he is disappointed with Frank’s leadership and what he and others on the Council who agree with him call a steamroller.
“It’s funny two other councillors can talk together on this without being acknowledged by the president and that’s ok,” he said. “But, when I jump in to talk crime stats, I’m ruled out of order. It’s a shame some councillors and the council president don’t want to work together as a team. I’m beginning to think this 10-point plan is a way to get people like me to shut up and go away…It’s a shame that it’s their way or no way with their clique up there.”
Frank said the 10-point plan bolsters walking patrols, and indicated that councillors don’t understand that to have walking patrols, the Department needed more staffing. With the plan delivering five new officers, and perhaps as many as 12, that can be accomplished.
“Adding extra police opens up a few officers to walk beats more often,” he said. “I think there is a belief among some that we can make a police officer drop what they’re doing and go walk a beat. Currently, we don’t have the manpower. Officers already have assignments and they can’t just go out and walk a beat. Having more officers under the plan relieves officers of these assignments and frees them up.”
Perlatonda, though, had a different take. He said he agrees with freeing up officers for beats, but he wants them out there for extended periods.
“I don’t want a beat for an hour or a half-hour; I would like to see it for a whole shift,” he said. “They think I’m asking too much…People don’t see the officers. I get calls all the time from residents who say they’re finding needles on their driveways and see prostitution and drugs on their streets. Having these beats doesn’t stop crime altogether, but everything out there says it moves it out of the neighborhoods where people and kids are at.”
The full 10-point plan is as follows:
1. Provide match funding for five new police officers
2. Establish a permanent Street Robbery Task Force
3. Increase walking routes and police visibility
4. Extend the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (which contains a $400,000 to $500,000 City grant to Roca if state funding is cut).
5. Plan for more officers to be hired and paid by casino impact funds – up to seven more officers.
6. Finance the purchase of home security cameras for interested residents.
7. Advance a Crime-Free Zone for the downtown
8. Fund two community outreach navigators
9. Hire a Police Department civilian crime watch manager
10. Fund a Prostitution Prevention and Intervention Task Force