Some 40 or 50 neighbors and property owners piled into the St. Luke’s Church on Tuesday night to meet with police about ongoing criminal activity in Cary Square and Washington Avenue.
It was one of a handful of meetings held this summer to address a new criminal element that has grown in the area and struck a nerve with neighbors. Called by District Councillor Clifford Cunningham, it was the largest turnout so far, and it featured important questions from residents and some new initiatives by Chelsea Police.
“I am extremely grateful to the residents who, by coming to our public safety meeting, demonstrated a commitment to making our neighborhood, and city, a safer place to live,” said Cunningham. “I also extend my gratitude to Chief Kyes and his command staff, City Manager Ambrosino, and my City Council colleagues who attended the meeting at my request; I am happy to say they were met with engaged stakeholders who desired a productive conversation about public safety issues, free from the type of negativity and finger pointing these meetings sometimes generate. The constructive tenure of this event, and the perceived willingness of those who attended to partner with law enforcement, city government, and their neighbors, will help me as I continue to work with all relevant parties to address those concerns and make Chelsea the best place it can be.”
Chief Brian Kyes started off the meeting saying that there are some areas of the city that are persistent problems, and they deploy forces accordingly. However, he said the Cary Square area isn’t traditionally one of them, and they have been blanketing the area recently to combat the spike in criminal activity.
“Certainly, there was a significant pocket around the Orange, Addison and Eden Streets area for the past couple of months,” he said. “We have a small city and we have areas of the city that traditionally give us headaches. We have to deploy there accordingly. Then there are other areas of the city where pockets pop up and we have to deploy accordingly. That’s what we did in this case.”
Kyes said there have been street robberies and some violence, such as gunshots in the area, but that drugs are really fueling the problem there and throughout the city. Such problems often lead to prostitution, property crimes and theft, he added.
Kyes said the police have taken two significant players from the area recently that he believes were the cause of many of the more severe problems. Ramon Valdez, who was living at 40 Orange St., was arrested on gun charges in conjunction with the Everett Police recently. Roberto Jimenez, of 102 Washington Ave., was also arrested on federal drug trafficking and gun charges as well.
The bigger picture, however, was to get acquainted with police and to build ties with neighbors so that the isolation brought on by street crime and quality of life issues doesn’t continue to fragment the community and the police.
“The idea is for us to know you on a first name basis so you can pick up a phone and talk to us any time and feel confident about that,” said Kyes.
To that end, Kyes announced that Community Officer Sammy Mojica would be implementing a pilot program in the area known as Flashlight Walks, a program run in Boston to great success.
“What we want to do is bring a group together and just walk through the neighborhood with flashlights in the evening,” said Kyes. “There’s strength in numbers. We want to walk with neighbors and show we care. We want to show folks that this is our community and we won’t let any negative influences from inside or outside the city come and take it over.”
Another key point was the use of the MyPD app for Smartphones to send tips, videos and photos to the police. The free app for phones and iPads is available on the Chelsea Police website, and it allows anyone to send in tips of all sorts to the police.
Kyes said they have made arrests based on the pictures and videos and tips sent through the app and he encouraged everyone to use it.
Some in the audience, though, felt that there was room for improvement when it comes to connecting with the police – especially when calling 9-1-1.
One woman said a persistent problem exists on the stairs of Washington Avenue with drug addicts and prostitutes.
“I called five times about it one night and they never came,” she said.
Another woman said, “When we call for these things, we’re scared oftentimes and the dispatch is just not nice.”
Another issue brought up was the fact that many residents here illegally are afraid to call the police. Kyes said the department goes to great lengths to foster trust between that community and between the community at large to ensure that critical information won’t be shared.
“When ICE comes in, if they’re coming for a criminal matter, we are certainly there,” said Kyes. “If they’re coming for a civil overstay, we tell them we won’t go. That’s because I could be here one night telling you to trust the police and then the next day they see us going around with ICE checking people’s papers. That violates that trust.”
A great deal of time was also devoted to the burgeoning heroin problem that exists in Cary Square – not to mention the entire state. Residents said drug addicts congregating on the streets and other areas are very common.
They reported seeing needles often.
Quick drug deals are rampant on the benches.
It’s a problem that is wearing thin on the patience and emotions of residents in the area, and there are no clear cut answers, police said.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the police force is at a good level of 111 officers to patrol the small city. He also said that the City is trying to pick up and work on the social problems with police, but it’s something that will take time.
“You can’t lock up this problem,” he said. “The prostitutes on the streets and the people doing drugs, the police could lock them up tonight and by tomorrow, they would be out doing it again. The key is to work at these social solutions and drug addicted youth and prostitutes and what is driving people to make these destructive decisions. It won’t happen overnight. I hope that over time we can make a dent in some of these problems.”
Meanwhile, the originator of
the crime meeting trend, Josh Cook – who owns Chelsea City Cafe and lives in Cary Square – said he was impressed with the productive nature of the meeting. He said he was very happy it didn’t go “Jerry Springer.”
“I envisioned a lot of yelling and screaming because that’s what it feels like outside,” he said. “When I see a prostitute dying on my doorstep and covered in blood, it makes me feel like yelling and screaming. I’m happy to see a big group of people getting together and talking about this civilly and it doesn’t turn into a Jerry Springer free for all…This is what we need to be doing right now. If we’re not engaging with each other, then we’re not winning.”