First Selectman Edward Haberek Jr. has asked to meet with the Police Commission and Chief Darren Stewart over new concerns about crime and safety in downtown Pawcatuck.
Haberek’s request comes in the wake of a Stonington Patch article on Tuesday that detailed a weekend petty crime spree that included a break-in at Mcgill Chrevrolet on West Broad Street.
Sean Mcgill, president of the car dealership, said that the break in early Saturday morning was the second significant crime to be committed on his property in the last six months. In addition, Mcgill said he increasingly has to deal with property damage, litter and even vomit and feces after the weekends.
Haberek said Tuesday that he is meeting with Mcgill next Monday to discuss the businessman’s concerns.
On Tuesday, Haberek sent an email to Stewart and the police commission asking to appear at the April 11 meeting.
“With the recent incidents that have happened in Pawcatuck during the last several months, I feel it is again time to revisit the approach to addressing situations in Pawcatuck” Haberek wrote. “The press headlines today do not shed a good light on the outcome the Pawcatuck approach. I have a meeting scheduled with Sean McGill to discuss his concerns and several other businesses reached out after this incident.”
Haberek was scheduled to attend the Westerly-Pawcatuck Downtown Business Association meeting Tuesday night to talk about crime and safety issues with the business owners. He said Westerly police Chief Edward St.Clair would also be at the meeting.
“There needs to be a collective approach to this,” Haberek said. “It’s not a knock on the police department, the officers know the situation. I want to be briefed on the approach and the tactics — does there need to be a fourth officer that concentrates on certain areas, do we need undercover officers? We are getting close to the summer and that’s making it more of a concern.”
Prior to the weekend’s crimes, in which seven cars were also broken into along neighboring streets allegedly by the same individual, there had been a rash of home break-ins in January. Haberek said he wants the town, public safety and business community to work together to solve whatever issues there are in downtown Pawcatuck.
“We are seeing some great progress,” he said. “We are working hard to be able to have people rehabilitate these places. People have put their life savings into these buildings.”
But Haberek said there are a few buldings in the heart of downtown that have absentee landlords and those are causing issues. He said landlords need to screen their prospective tenants. He also said the bars and the one-hour difference between the Rhode Island and Connecticut closing times can be a problem.
“There have been situations whereby different individuals have moved in and maybe it’s individuals who aren’t connected to the communnity,” he said. “It’s become a habitat for vagrants and people to hang out. People in the park or people getting drunk and there’s fights and businesses are being disrupted.”
Patch user Donna Pearlman posted this comment on Tuesday’s article:
“There is a severe crime problem in downtown Pawcatuck which even caused me to flee my own residence there and I am temporarily living with friends and family before deciding whether it is safe to move back. The police do a great job but I personally think the problem is the amount of rental properties and rooming houses that do NO BACKGROUND CHECKS on who they rent to, I have had personal experience with this and complained about it to landlords and contacted our town first selectman, our congresswoman and the police. When I lived at the Elm Tree Inn the landlords did not even check employment and had just started to require photo ids from residents and did not do police record checks. I was lucky to leave there with most of my possessions and my life, in my opinion. There is an inexpensive program to run police background checks on potential tenants that I know is used at other local rental properties and motels in Stonington. Also when I lived in New London they had police on foot patrols and bicycles and I think that would be a great thing if there was a more visible on foot presence and not just in cars.”
On Patch’s Facebook page, Peter Santos had this to say:
“This was a very informative article as I was contemplating purchasing a house on Moss street. I'm not sure this is an area I want to raise my children in. Too bad really, I love the area and downtown Westerly.”
And Beth Cotton Tannatt posted this on Facebook:
“It's getting ridiculous, but I don't know that it's any different than living in any other area. I just think the world is generally becoming a less safe place to live.”
Haberek said he would like to see police focusing on what he called “quality-of-life” crimes.
“We need to be more vigilant on the smaller criminal actions, the public drinking, fighting, sleeping on the street, trespassing on private property," he said. "If people know they cannot drink on the street, they won’t come anymore. That solves the problem.
“The town has put lot of money into the streetscape there, it looks nice, we have to make it an inviting environment. I want seniors, joggers, to feel comfortable and safe. It should be a welcoming place.”