March 18, 2010
Neighborhood Watch Groups Starting Up In Haverhill, N. H.
By Sally Cook
Haverhill, N. H., is not yet a hotbed of crime where murder and mayhem have residents cowering in fear.However, there is an escalating number of crimes, causing Haverhill Police Chief Cecil Smith concern. Last year, there were 509 serious incidents against people, such as sex crimes, prostitution, murder, kidnapping, and criminal threatening. The five-year average for these types of crimes from 2005 to 2009 was 418 compared to 254 the fiveyear average from 1995-1999 and 408 for the next five-year block.
Murders have increased from an average of one in 10 years to one in two years. Physical assaults have increased from 55 in 30 years to an annual average of 82. Domestic assaults have escalated from 54 a year in the 1980s to 90 a year. And crimes involving weapons are increasing, along with gang-related violence and drug activity.
There are 17 registered sex offenders in town, including 14 offenders against children. Last year, the Haverhill Police Department completed 121 sex-offender registrations, of which 41 were from out of state, who work, shop, or go to school here. There are also two cold cases that have been reopened:the 2005 murder of Tom Conrad, who was shot to death in Pike; and Maura Murray, who disappeared after a minor vehicle accident on Route 112 in 2004. Another unsolved disappearance is Dennis Robert Towle who went missing in 2002 from Woodsville.
"Right now there are 30 to 40 open felony cases, and we have $175, 000 worth of bad checks," Smith said. "There have been a rash of burglaries, mostly small stuff - drugs and money, that kind of thing." Police cannot be everywhere at once in a town that covers 52 square miles and has five population centers. So, Chief Smith is looking for the eyes and ears of the community to help squash crime as it happens.
One of his initiatives is to start Neighborhood Watch groups in each of the town's five precincts. To this end, he conducted the first meeting in Woodsville Tuesday night, with several concerned residents who were willing to help.
Meetings will also be conducted April 12 at Mountain Lakes office at 6 p.m., April 20 in North Haverhill, 6:30 p.m., at the Morrill Building, and one on May 27 at 7 p.m.
for Pike and Haverhill Corner at the Haverhill Corner Fire Department. "We need to look out for each other and to help keep others from being victimized," Smith told the gathering Tuesday night. "This is not a vigilante force. We don't want people to jump out and grab them.
We just want people to tell us what's going on." Smith gave the classic example of a case that could have had a different outcome, if a neighbor had called the police after seeing someone dragging something across his lawn in the middle of the night during a pouring rain.
As it turned out, what he saw was a burglar that had broken into a home and stolen more than $9, 000 worth of silver coins saved by a former store owner. The burglar had shoveled the coins into a pillow case, dragged it across a lawn and the street and disappeared.
"The next day I found a trail of coins," Smith said. "A neighbor had seen someone dragging something across the lawn, but he didn't call us. If he had, we would have met him at the street." Organization of a Neighborhood Watch group includes getting together to map the neighborhood showing houses, their colors, who owns them, contact telephone numbers and a description of the cars they drive.
"Know who and where your neighbors are and their normal routines," Smith said. "Report anything that is not usual happening. This is not something police will be actively involved in, but we can come and talk on a subject like sexual assault or advise residents on things like locks for their doors." He also recommended residents keep a list of the things in their home. So, that if they are victimized they can report details of what was taken, such as the make and the size of the television. Smith said police pick up stolen items all the time, but they can't return them if they don't have a description of what people lost.
"We've been watching Highland Street for 34 years," said David Johnson, who included Wes Eaton as a watcher. "I have a list of all the things that happened in that time." While he commended Smith and his department for taking the initiative for encouraging Neighborhood Watch groups, he said one of the big problems is the court system.
"Courts just give them a tap on the wrist," Johnson said. "I've lived here all my life and it's just business as usual." Commenting about Johnson's list of offenses that he's reported to police, Smith said there were a lot of places in town like his neighborhood.
He said the combination of a transient population in Woodsville's apartment houses, and Cumberland Farms being open all night are contributing factors in Haverhill's busiest community.
"I can't fix the courts, but I can give you a status update, if charges are pressed," he said. "People can also come to the station and see who the sex offenders are if they don't have access to the Internet. The ones for crimes against children." Smith said he would like to see four Neighborhood Watch districts in Woodsville. Keith Brown, a part time HPD officer, agreed to organize one during Tuesday night's session.