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Crowd packs latest Malden safety meeting

Posted by Matt Byrne  October 29, 2010 10:04 AM

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Matt Byrne

Nearly 200 attended the latest public safety meeting for Ward 6, where much of the late gun violence has occurred. .

At a heavily attended public safety meeting called for residents of Ward 6 Thursday night, city officials reiterated their plan to bring tactical and technological changes to Malden to address the gun violence and property crime that has plagued the city.

Ward 6 City Councilor Neil Kinnon, joined by Mayor Richard C. Howard and Police Chief James J. Holland, elaborated on details of their plan, including new information about the proposed camera system that could keep electronic watch over Malden hotspots and thoroughfares, the chief said.

Kinnon began the discussion with a primer on state and local financial policy, trying to bring the nearly 200 residents who packed into the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School multi-purpose room up to speed on the fiduciary health of the municipality.

"It doesn't appear that the economy is getting any better," said Kinnon, who spoke ahead of the mayor Thursday. "It's important that you understand that. We have some very difficult choices coming at us. I'm not going to sugar-coat it. You need to understand it."

Since fiscal year 2009 began in July 2008, the state budget has increased 6.2 percent, Kinnon said, while state aid to Malden during the same period decreased more than 12 percent.

"I'm not crying, as a community, but I'm saying the state budget has been going up and they're insulated to some extent and every city and town is taking it hard, very hard," Kinnon said.

In an interview after the meeting, Kinnon said he knows how to solve the city's crime problems, but the solution will take money, and would rely on technological aids such as the cameras that the mayor and the chief spoke about at earlier safety meetings.

If fully realized to the specifications Holland described, a network of surveillance cameras would keep watch over main entrance and exit points to the city along its limits.

The cameras could potentially scan every license plate that passes through their fields of vision, Holland said, and search for specific red flags, such as arrest warrants, unpaid parking tickets, or vehicle violations that could lead police to more effectively target troublemakers.

Holland said much work has yet to be done by utility companies that have to first lay fiber-optic cable in parts of city as backbone to the information-heavy camera systems.

As part of the first phase of the system, some newly installed camera equipment at Maplewood and Trafton Park is alreday operational, according to Kinnon's presentation, a copy of which he provided to the Globe.

Despite the tech-heavy camera elements, Holland urged old-fashioned communication with the department.

"The key to all of this is please call us," he said. "Don't try to do anything yourself. Please, give us a call. We can sort it out when we get there."

Kinnon also detailed some ongoing activities of police and city workers who are acting to combat the violence and some of the environmental factors that can enable it, Kinnon said, by painting over graffiti and cleaning up parks regularly, repairing broken street lighting, and more quickly addressing disturbance complaints.

During one exchange later during the question and answer session, at least one resident complained about suspicious or unseemly behavior that, while isolated to a single property in her vicinity on George Street, she said, has affected a greater number of people in the surrounding homes.

The woman, who did not give her name before she addressed the officials and the crowd, said the home, located on George Street, has been a perennial problem for her, with people coming and going in a suspicious manner, making noise, and being a nuisance.

Kinnon acknowledged that he was aware of the situation but did not identify the house's address publicly.

Several other city councilors attended the meeting, including Craig Spadafora, Barbara Murphy, Gary Christianson, and James Nestor.

Kinnon, who at times became impassioned during his responses to some queries by audience members, at one point briefly detoured into the judicial appointment process and the implication of low bail for violent offenders. He advocated for the election of judges, which would force jurists to live in the community where they sit on the bench. The current system allows for judicial appointments.

"[Police] arrested someone who did an armed robbery, with a gun, took him to court, and released him back to our community for $500 [bail]," said Kinnon.

Howard echoed the sentiment, saying that judges and bail are certainly pieces of the criminal justice problem, when outcomes can vary if "the judge of the day has a more liberal or conservative outlook," he said.

"Bail is a whole other issue that a judge has discretion on."

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