Although none of the votes were unanimous, the City Council this past Monday night adopted seven spending orders totaling nearly $1 million to support a 10-point plan to enhance public safety in Chelsea.
The plan was organized by City Manager Jay Ash, Chief of Police Brian Kyes and Councillor Dan Cortell, and was reflective of discussions had amongst various stakeholders in the community over the past two years.
“This is another huge step towards beating back crime and allowing all the good that exists in Chelsea to fully bloom,” said Councillor Cortell. “Over the last two years, we’ve already reduced crime by 33 percent and come to the realization that other problems require equally as vigilant non-policing answers. This series of votes and the plan that we’re now putting forward is sure to make our community even safer and more enjoyable to live in, work in and play in.”
Those sounding off against the plan were Councillors Joe Perlatonda and, on all but one vote, Geovanni Recupero. Councillor Paul Barton voted against one of the measures as well.
Perlatonda said he believes the plan – while having some decent ideas – will end up being a facade.
“I think a lot of these councillors up here and Jay Ash have the residents buffaloed into thinking this is going to rid the City of crime,” he said. “I don’t think it will…They didn’t get the slam dunk they were looking for and it’s because I think this was all done by Jay and not the Council. When we tried to have Council input, they wouldn’t change much of anything. It was their way or the highway. I would have liked to go carefully through the plan and tweak it here and there and really look at it before passing it. Like the trash or parking plans we have, once things like this get passed, there’s no changing it.”
The plan makes permanent a special police task force that reduces crime by intercepting it before it happens, adds five more police officers to back fill those elevated to that task force, and allows the Chelsea Police Department (CPD) to be more proactive with visibility and walking routes. It also supports the Safe & Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI), a partnership between CPD and several local agencies, most notably ROCA, by extending the focus on 17-24 year old young men who have been involved in violence in the past.
“Each of these policing initiatives has proven to be successful, so we should want to make them permanent and extend their effectiveness even further,” said Councillor Brian Hatleberg. “That we’re in a financial position to invest even more into public safety and, especially our police department, is a credit to all else we do to balance budgets and be thoughtful about our approach to maximizing the effectiveness of every tax dollar we take in.”
Perlatonda was critical of the lack of a consistent walking beat from the police, and also the use of tax dollars to fund a ROCA program and to fund police officer overtime pay for spending time at ROCA.
“These police officers we’re hiring, I wanted to know if they’re going to walk a beat or if they will have to live in Chelsea,” he said. “If they aren’t, then I don’t want them. Residents ask me all the time why we’re hiring police officers when there are four cruisers parked at Bellingham Square and appear to be doing nothing. And with ROCA, I just read that they got $18 million for social innovation financing. Is it really necessary to give them access to $300,000 in taxpayer dollars and to give the police $100,000 in overtime to go hang out at ROCA? I’m not buying it.”
However, most of the rest of the Council did buy into the plan, and councillors like Hatleberg praised the non-policing initiatives, including providing a grant program for the private purchase of home security cameras, adding two street counselors to help people navigate through drug and other problems, hiring a civilian crime watch coordinator who will help build social capital as well as strong police/resident alliances to better protect neighborhoods, and engaging a public health professional to address prostitution from the female side of the equation.
“This is a very enlightened approach to addressing some of the most complex issues that have vexed others,” said Council President Matt Frank. “I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the overall program because it again demonstrates a resolve to do everything we can to focus on both the public safety and the public health issues involved in criminal behavior.”
Frank said he was particularly happy with the passage of the private security camera program for resident, and enoucouraged by the way it has been received by the public.
“To be honest, we weren’t sure how people would receive the camera idea, but we put it in so see what the public reaction would be,” he said. “It got overwhelming support and we already have residents signing up to be in on the program.”
He said the threat of “Big Brother” watching over residents was low because the cameras would not be hooked up to a network. Only residents could look at the surveillance, and police could ask residents to access the videos if they believe there could be valuable evidence on them.
“People don’t have to be afraid of us sitting at City Hall watching who is coming in and out of their homes,” he said.
The plan also includes beginning the process of devising the most effective way to utilize even more police officers that could be hired in the next two years as a result of casino funding, and it advances the concept of a “crime-free zone” around the downtown to prohibit those who have been convicted of certain crimes from returning to their old hang-outs.
“The crime-free zone requires the support of the courts, and they are saying they are willing to work with us on something that balances the various civil liberty needs that do exist in restricting access to public spaces,” informed Chief Brian Kyes. “The entire package is really amazing and further contributes the tools we need to make an even larger dent in public safety here in Chelsea.”
“And,” added Kyes, “I can tell you the entire package has other communities looking at Chelsea as a leader once again.”
City Manager Ash said he was grateful for the support from the City Council, both in terms of identifying issues to prioritize and for then stepping up and funding the plan that was devised.
“Two years ago, Council adopted their top priorities, and each one relating to crime is reflected in this package. We’re lucky to have their leadership, as well as the advocacy of other stakeholders in the community who have offered up their hopes for our further efforts on overall community revitalization.
“While there are three names on this 10 point plan, there are hundreds of voices that are behind the combined initiatives,” said Ash.
Ash is now working on implementing the various aspects of the package.
“It’s as excited as it is rewarding, because we are on the leading edge of an approach that many are taking notice of, namely, being strong on policing, but remembering that there are numerous public health aspects affecting crime,” said Ash. “By understanding the two, we are more assured of having a more substantial impact on both crime and on the lives that are affected by it.”
Ash said that this package will lead to the next, leaving the door open for even more initiatives in the near future.
Councillor Leo Robinson concurred.
“We advanced this package, but we know we have more to do. I think there has been healthy discussion about drug treatment options, for example, and we need to do even more to give our kids productive lives and our seniors safer homes,” said Robinson.