Bristol forum takes aim at drug-related crimes

BRISTOL — Around 70 community members gathered at Bristol’s second crime and drug forum on Tuesday night and took some steps toward addressing the apparent rise of armed burglaries and drug-related crimes in the five-town area.
While few decisions were made, those at the Holley Hall meeting agreed to move forward by organizing steering committees around specific solutions and continuing to foster a conversation that will help determine the next steps.
Police Chief Kevin Gibbs opened the conversation by responding to questions that had been asked at the first crime forum on July 31, which drew 100 residents.
One issue was whether or not a citizen could independently make an arrest if they witnessed a crime. Gibbs said the answer was yes, if the crime was a “disturbance to the peace.” But he advised against it.
Rather than tackling a potentially dangerous situation alone, “I’d advise people to be really good witnesses,” he said.
Gibbs stressed the importance of noticing details that help police identify a suspect later, even if they initially get away. Helpful details included a license plate number if a vehicle is involved, and any descriptive details for individuals including height, weight and clothing.
Another topic raised at the first crime forum involved the Hub, the teen center and skate park located on Airport Drive. Some in the audience had questioned whether its impact on the community was positive or negative.
“One of the most dangerous times (for kids) is when they get out of school and no one’s parents are home,” Gibbs said, pointing out that the Hub provides a space for at-risk kids to spend time after school. Gibbs said that most of the trouble his department had seen at the Hub were occasions when individuals outside of the teen center’s community had attempted to “get at those kids” who were spending their after school time at the skate park. Gibbs said the Hub’s staff had done an excellent job trying to protect the kids, and concluded that, in his opinion, the Hub was a positive influence on the community.
Gibbs also responded to inquiries about Bristol’s DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, which has not been in the schools for four years. He said he had inquired about putting it back in, though what the cost would be is still unclear.
Since the last meeting, Gibbs said, the police department had noticed citizens stepping up to protect the town. Many people responded to a call to “occupy” the town green during daytime hours, and residents of Maple Street had begun the process of forming a neighborhood watch.
The selectboard had asked the police department to look into placing a video camera at the top of Holley Hall to monitor the green, the parking lot outside of Rite-Aid and other high-traffic areas. While the police at one time had a camera supplied by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the top of Holley Hall, Gibbs said it came down a few years ago while the building was renovated and now is sitting in his office. He is looking into how much that would cost.
Gibbs reported that trespassing citations had been issued to half a dozen people who had previously been asked to leave public areas like the town green. In the same way that business owners have the right to ask people to leave their stores, police have been asking individuals to leave public property. If they do not comply, they can be ticketed for trespassing, after which they are not permitted to return to the site for 12 months. Citizens who receive a trespassing citation have the right to ask for its reversal at selectboard meetings, which are held every other Monday at Holley Hall.
Lincoln resident Kate McGowan, Co-executive Director of United Way of Addison County, facilitated a dialogue with the audience.
“We want to know why you’re here, and what you hope to accomplish,” McGowan told the crowd, writing their answers on big pad on an easel at the front of the room.
Many audience members said that they hoped to find ways for the community to reach out to kids, young parents and those especially vulnerable to drug predators. Others were quick to point out that everyone is vulnerable, regardless of age. Several mentioned the need to reach out to politicians for funding.
McGowan said that since the last meeting, a steering committee had been formed to find ways to address community concerns. “We tried to get a diverse group,” McGowan explained. “But this is by no means a closed club.”
She encouraged anyone who was interested to speak to her after the meeting.
Several people did.
Among the things law enforcement has done to improve the situation was the arrest on Sept. 9 of two people at an apartment on Mountain View Street where police were called after a man overdosed on drugs, Gibbs said (See Bristol Police Log on Page 11B). Photographs taken at the crime scene were passed through the audience. They showed garbage bags and two-liter soda bottles overflowing with used hypodermic needles and blood-spotted tissues. Police reportedly found 1,500 to 2,000 used needles, as well as heroin, morphine, and an third substance that he expects lab tests to identify as crack cocaine.
However, law enforcement officials believe that as they arrest certain people involved in the drug trade, they are increasing business for others.
“This is far from over,” Gibbs said.
Reporter Xian Chiang-Waren can be reached at [email protected].

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