Montague Police ‘well over 100’ hours into downtown crime investigation

  • Third Street in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Fourth Street in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Third Street in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Avenue A at Third Street in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • A Montague police cruiser. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2022 7:21:54 PM
Modified: 8/10/2022 7:18:38 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Police are investigating a group of juvenile repeat offenders who they say have accounted for a recent uptick in crime in the village’s downtown area, according to Montague Police Lt. Christopher Bonnett.

Bonnett said “at least 35” of the 49 vandalism-related calls received by the Montague Police Department through the fourth quarter (May through July) were related to this group of juveniles. This, he said, is an increase from the typical 25 to 30 vandalism-related calls the department has received on average annually over the same period of time.

“It turns out as I kind of expected … this rash is kind of a limited thing,” said Bonnett, having just analyzed relevant data patterns.

Residents expressed their concerns during the public comment period of this week’s Selectboard meeting before imploring Chair Rich Kuklewicz to request that Police Chief Christopher Williams increase downtown police presence through the summer.

“There’s just a general sense of uncomfortability for me and the tenants living here right now,” said Kelley Jewell, a Third Street resident who reported young children pouring detergent on things, people stealing and a “dog kidnapping” in her building.

“I think the group (at this meeting) is just a small percentage of the downtown community that is concerned about this matter,” commented Oliver Miller, another Third Street resident. “There is a much bigger group of us that have been speaking together.”

Miller began recounting his personal experience by telling the Selectboard that someone had tried breaking into his building overnight recently.

“This was definitely a very scary situation for my family and I,” he said, “and it could have been worse if the person had gotten in.”

In addition, Miller said he observed somebody being “verbally assaulted on the street last week,” as well as vandalism, including “very disturbing racist remarks” written on his building.

“We ask that this concern be treated as if your own home was attempted to be broken in, your own tires were slashed or racist graffiti was written on your own property,” Miller told the Selectboard.

Avenue A resident Edite Cunha’s personal observations seem to match up with Bonnett’s findings that such rates of crime are atypical.

“I’ve lived here for over 15 years and haven’t had this kind of experience that I’ve had this summer with things taken out of my garden, things being taken from my car, which is in the driveway, and … (what) looks to me like drug activity on a couple of the corners in town,” Cunha said.

Fourth Street resident Maureen McNamara said encountering a group of people apparently engaged in drug-related activity made her nervous. Previously, she said, one person involved tried to trip her.

“It was intimidating,” she said of walking past the loitering group. “It was uncomfortable to walk through that. I had to take alternatives … because I was just scared. I didn’t know if they were going to jump me.”

Town Administrator Steve Ellis said he’s spoken to Williams about expediting a police response, arguing that “some kind of intervention” is needed.

“I do know there are active investigations,” added Kuklewicz, “but as you know, those things take time.”

Bonnett said while “the matter is being investigated and appropriate action is being taken,” the Police Department is limited as to how it can respond due to having only two on-duty patrol officers at a time. He added that, frankly, “it is what it is” and that it would be “remiss” of him to say the department has the means to make major adjustments to its patrols.

“We still only have two officers,” said Bonnett, explaining that one officer is responsible for patrolling downtown Turners Falls, while the other must cover the rest of Montague. “The geographical area of Turners Falls really only represents a small portion of what the Montague Police Department is responsible for.”

Still, Bonnett said, the department has put “probably well over 100 personnel hours into this investigation” of the repeat perpetrators.

“It’s really just a matter of us doing what we do,” he said, “and sometimes, these things take time.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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