September 05. 2013 10:51PM

Angry Manchester residents show up in force at police community meeting

New Hampshire Union Leader

Manchester residents learn about burglar-proofing their homes during a Manchester Police Department community meeting Thursday night. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Punctuating the stress and angst of about 100 people who attended Thursday's Police Department community meeting was almost-7-year-old Seamus Sullivan, recounting how his birthday was ruined by a thief.

"The things for my birthday got robbed," he said, to a chorus of "awws."

While police had charts up at the meeting showing how many violent crimes and other incidents took place in the city over the last three years, the laser-like focus of nearly every speaker was a recent spike in burglaries — like the one in which a delivery for Seamus' birthday was stolen near his family's back door.

His mother, Victoria, who is running for the Ward 9 alderman seat against Barbara Shaw, said the incident happened "while I was at home with my children."

"I want to know, as a parent and as a citizen, what is going to happen to prevent this from happening?" Sullivan said.

Her question was echoed by several other speakers.

Police Chief David Mara said his department is trying its best, but must find ways to do things better and needs more officers to patrol the city.

"We're not making excuses," Mara said more than once.

There were 148 burglaries in the city in July and slightly more than 100 in August. Those numbers are both increases from the same period last year. Mara said police are focusing on why the spate of burglaries is happening and how to slow them.

He said the meeting, which also featured a presentation by community police officers on inexpensive ways homeowners can protect their properties from burglars, was one of the ways to combat the rash of break-ins.

Mara said police do what they can to respond to incidents as quickly as possible, but are limited by resources.

Communications Manager Rachael Page said police are trying to respond to an average of 925 service calls each day. She said slower response times can happen if every available officer is at another call already.

There can be "multiple calls that are a higher priority than an egg that was smashed on the side of your house," she said. "But we can't send an officer every time, right away. It's just not possible."

"These are the facts," Mara said, referring to the burglaries and complaints about slow police response time. "I know that they don't make you feel any better. They don't make me feel better either."

Mara repeated his stance, with Mayor Ted Gatsas and several aldermen present, that the department needs more than the roughly 220 officers on duty now.

"A city our size should have 275 police officers," he said.

Assistant Chief Nick Willard said the Police Department was planning to apply for grants to purchase a $38,000 in-house fingerprint analysis software kit — the department now has prints analyzed by a state police lab in Concord. Gatsas stood up and promised to appropriate city funds for the purchase.

Meanwhile, outside the meeting at the Officer Michael Briggs Community Center/Manchester Police Athletic League on Beech Street, police responded to two incidents, including a robbery and a traffic incident.

In the robbery, reported by a woman who said things for her baby were stolen, police were able to recover the goods within minutes.