NORWICH – A group of concerned residents gathered at the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office Thursday night to discuss the growing heroin epidemic, as well as various law enforcement and court concerns, and strategies of “taking back Chenango County.”
A Facebook page by the name of Taking Back Chenango County was created 12 days ago, and has garnered more than 900 “likes” since. The page was recently brought to the attention of Chenango County Sheriff Ernest R. Cutting, Jr. and District Attorney Joe McBride – both of whom were on hand to speak and answer questions at Thursday’s gathering.
The meeting consisted predominately of Norwich residents who expressed interest in forming a version of a “neighborhood watch” group within the city. Group members hope to promote the idea: “If you see something, say something.”
Taking Back Chenango County has other factions in various areas of the county. Other meetings are scheduled in locations including Sherburne, Oxford and Guilford in the coming weeks.
The mission of the group is to encourage citizens to become more proactive within their communities, and to look out for one another.
It was suggested that residents introduce themselves to their neighbors, familiarize themselves with those living around them, and through that, be able to spot suspicious activity that they can then report to law enforcement.
“We want neighborhoods to be how they used to be,” said resident Robert Clipson. “You don’t have to be best friends, just know who is around you. A kind gesture of saying ‘Hi’ can be a good start. Get to know the people who live next door, and across the street.”
More than 30 residents spoke out about the influx of drug crimes in the area, stating they are sick of what the area has become because of the drugs and crime.
“A good neighborhood is the eyes and ears of local law enforcement,” said Clipson. “We want to work with the police to help keep our community safe.”
Sheriff Cutting said he saw the page on Facebook the day it went up, adding “Really, it is important. There is nothing more important than sticking together.”
Both Cutting and McBride agreed: drugs and violence have been in the area for years, but the recent influx of heroin brings different concerns.
Said Cutting, “Law enforcement has always been in the battle. Unfortunately, we are starting to see a rise in the violent crimes.”
He assured those in attendance that the group has his support, and said future meetings could be held at the Sheriff’s Office if they wished.
“We’re here for you,” Cutting said. “You’re the taxpayers. We want to work together and support you, and want you to have a safe place to hold your meetings.”
Cutting encouraged attendees to report tips to the tip line, or on the CCSO website. The tips are immediately sent to the Chenango County Sheriff, Undersheriff Frair, and a Lieutenant, who then meet to discuss the nature of the tip.
Taking back Chenango County has registered with usaonwatch.org and in the near future, members of the group can obtain literature and informative materials for training on how to successfully keep one another safe, and be the eyes and ears for the police.
The group’s organizers stated plans to work closely with each of the local law enforcement agencies with regard to the training needed for neighborhood watch groups to be set up safely and efficiently. It was determined that the City of Norwich is too large to have one group of residents to keep an eye out for the entire vicinity, so smaller factions will break out based on members’ locations.
Many residents were vocal about their concerns. “I moved here because I was told Norwich was a nice place to live,” said one. “It is not a nice place to live.”
The crowd spoke out in detail of various locations of drug activity within the City of Norwich, to which Cutting responded, “Moving forward, those are the things we need to know. For me and the staff, it will be a tremendous work load. But it is worth it. We have made a lot of big arrests, and residents will have to be patient, but we are working on it.”
The Sheriff noted with regard to catching offenders, the power of social media is tremendous.
“Something is drastically wrong here in Chenango County,” said Joe Biviano, another speaker during the meeting. “But the most important thing is that we’re here, and we’re coming together to show that we care. The Sheriff is listening.”
The CCSO’s jurisdiction covers 911 square miles, and those at the meeting expressed a willingness to help out and report something if they see something out of the ordinary.
“There are no super stars here, no super leaders,” said Biviano. “It’s us. We’re here. We are Chenango.”
Cutting explained that the county works on the “closest car concept.” If an incident is occurring and it is reported to the CCSO but there is a State Trooper car closer to the scene, that officer would respond.
“The local agencies work hand-in-hand,” said Cutting. “We’re all trying to make sure things are safe.”
District Attorney Joe McBride took some time to speak to the group, and to answer any questions raised regarding his role with the criminal justice system.
“It’s very, very cool everyone is out here trying to make Chenango County a better, safer place,” McBride said.
He spoke on the growing heroin problem in the county, and stated that he has noticed a difference with heroin than other drugs, adding that he thanks God he listened to his father when he told him not to use it.
“The people that are bringing it don’t live here,” McBride said. “Our junkies are going to places like Binghamton or Utica, and are bringing them here because they tell them it’s safer.”
McBride added that by getting everyone involved, Chenango County can become a better place to live.
Details were given by McBride regarding the logistics of how suspected criminal activity has to be handled in a lawful manner, citing probable cause and warrants.
“If there is a guy, and we know he is selling, and he gives a written confession, but an officer forgets to read him his rights, we can’t do anything,” said McBride. “The more information we have, the better, so we can do our jobs. Help and tips from residents are great.”
Group members expressed interest in getting other prominent figures involved with future meetings, including Norwich City Police Chief Joseph Angelino (who said he has not been contacted by group organizers), Chenango County Court Judge Frank B. Revoir Jr., Norwich City Court Judge James Downey, and other local law enforcement employees and township magistrates.
Discussions also included James Everard, who has extensive experience with substance abuse issues and heads up the Chenango County Drug Court as coordinator.
McBride encouraged attendees of the meeting to create a public presence within the court system. Court proceedings are open to the public and he said county court is held Mondays and Fridays. Norwich City Court takes place Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Other issues including domestic violence, bullying in schools and the rise of Hepatitis C were also discussed.
When asked why certain offenders are offered plea deals, McBride assured that does not happen with violent crimes. “If every non-violent case were tried, the officers involved in the case would have to be with me, which would take them off the road. We just don’t have the resources for that.” He added he has been considered “one of the most aggressive District Attorneys in Central New York.”
While the general consensus was that drugs and crime are a huge issue in the county, McBride said, “It’s still pretty much a safe a place. We don’t get mugged walking down the street, thank God.”
Cutting commented on the disconnect that seems to be in place now between the community and law enforcement, but added he is looking forward to working with those involved with Taking Back Chenango County.
Group organizers and members agreed to hold additional topical meetings to cover the various issues plaguing the area. Subtopics discussed included drug treatment options, drug prevention for children, teens, and young adults, bullying, domestic violence, and the neighborhood watch.
The Norwich group is set to meet again at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23 at the CCSO.
To track upcoming events of Taking Back Chenango County, visit facebook.com/takebackChenango.
To report a crime or suspicious activity, residents are encouraged to call the Norwich City Police at 334-2424, the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office at 334-2000 or the New York State Troopers Norwich Barracks at 334-3296.