This week, East Haddam residents participated in an open forum to discuss the perceived rise in crime and determine what, if anything, could be done.
The panel of local officials on hand to answer questions included First Selectman Mark Walter, Toni McCabe of Youth and Family Services, School Superintendent Mary Beth Iacobelli, BOE Chair Nancy Haslam, Emergency Management Director Craig Mansfield, TFC Jeffrey Rhoades, TFC Ian Hawes and all three school principals. Additional school officials were also in the audience, along with State Representative Melissa Ziobron.
Issues discussed included the nature of the recent crimes, what town officials are currently doing and how residents can help protect themselves and their neighbors.
According to TFC Rhoades, as of the year-end 2012, there was not a significant rise in burglaries or larcenies reported in East Haddam. He feels the community "becomes outraged" when there is a handful of crimes reported in a short time and that it "leads people to believe it's worse than it is."
Once leads are followed up on and criminals are prosecuted and put in jail, he says, the crimes go down again. "When they get out of jail, they do it again."
Currently, there have been some arrests made in relation to recent burglaries and there are some additional leads that police are following up on. Rhoades says that they are also working with Haddam, across the river, to see if their recent rash of burglaries might be related to those on this side.
Craig Mansfield, TFC Rhoades and TFC Hawes all wanted to stress the importance of notifying police as soon as residents see something suspicious. They warn to be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles or people in your local neighborhoods that seem "out of place." Time is of the essence when trying to collect information on crimes, they say.
Town officials also recommend that residents be vigilant in locking their homes and cars as to not be easy prey for a burglary and to remove items like wallets, gps systems, phones and bags from your cars.
Residents from the audience asked if the recent burglaries were related to "the heroin problem in town." Rhoades confirmed that, in some cases, it is the 19-20 year-olds who are hooked on heroin and attempting to get cash to buy drugs.
Toni McCabe of Youth and Family services discussed the East Haddam Local Prevention Council (EHLPC), which recently was awarded a significant grant to fund programs related to minimizing drug and alcohol abuse. Through programs developed with the EHLPC and the help of the community, the council hopes to change the current environment and lessen drug-related crimes in town.
Additionally, residents discussed forming and reactivating Neighborhood Crime Watches. Residents were asked to fill out their names and contact information on a sign-up sheet if they were interested in participating in a neighborhood watch.
There will be an additional Crime Community Forum and Neighborhood Crime Watch Informational Meeting on February 26 at 7 p.m. in the Nathan Hale-Ray High School cafeteria.
Mansfield also suggests residents sign up for the East Haddam Alerts Emergency Notification System to be notified of everything from damaging weather to town-wide emergencies. Residents can sign up at the town website: www.easthaddam.org.
*Editor's Note: School security was also discussed at this meeting, but will be detailed in a separate article.