NORWICH – Nearly 60 Chenango County residents gathered at the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office Thursday night for the second meeting of the group whose members say they are striving to be “proactive not reactive” with regard to drugs, crime and domestic violence in the area.
Norwich City Police Chief Joseph Angelino, Assistant District Attorney Michael D. Ferrarese and Chenango County Undersheriff Dan Frair addressed the group’s concerns regarding law enforcement and legislation – with specific attention paid to the drug epidemic in the county.
The group pledged at its first meeting to keep a better eye on one another, and speakers promoted the idea of being the “eyes and ears” for law enforcement. The “if you see something, say something,” suggestion was provided by both speakers and attendees.
“There really is a power in numbers,” said Robert Clipston. “There are just about twice as many people at tonight’s meeting than there were at the first meeting. This shows that people are paying attention to the problem, and people care.”
One of the administrators of the Facebook group that sparked the meetings, Joe Biviano, said “We’re about you. There are no big shots, no leaders, just you. And we need you.”
He added in reference to the Facebook groups member increase from nearly 900 to more than 1,400 in two weeks, “Just as fast as our numbers have gone up, we can go down. We need to keep up our efforts.”
The group plans to hold topic specific meetings involving domestic violence and drug addiction.
Many members expressed their concerns that there isn’t enough in the community for children to do, which may be a reason they choose to use drugs. Movie nights, craft programs, camping trips, hunting and fishing were all proposed. “We all have something we’re interested in and as parents, we can help get the kids involved in positive activities,” said Cassie Clipston.
“Let’s come together with these problems and help to come up with solutions,” said Biviano. “That’s why we’re all here.”
Chief Angelino addressed the group for more than an hour. Focus was turned to the Norwich Police Department.
Angelino said officers of the NPD work 12 hour shifts. “There are four guys on a shift; one Sgt. at the desk, and three officers.”
Rodney Marsh is a detective with the department and deals with operations including child abuse cases and internet crimes – which is something Angelino added happens more often in the area than would be expected.
Angelino advised those in attendance that while he and his staff appreciate an eye on their neighbors and community, patience is key.
“If you call and say you know your neighbor is selling heroin, there is a process we have to go through. We can’t just bust down the door,” said Angelino. “I know you get frustrated, but there is a way we have to do things so that the District Attorney’s Office has everything they need to be able to prosecute efficiently.”
The chief added that last summer, the department was six officers down – three were out for work related injuries, and three were out for other injuries.
“I hope you weren’t able to notice that,” said Angelino. “We were still diligent in doing our best despite our reduction in manpower.” He added that NPD covered the fair, Gus Macker, and the day-to-day happenings of the city even though they were understaffed.
“We’re strapped to the limit. We’re not perfect, but we do try to give you bang for your buck,” Angelino said to the group. “They work long shifts, and you never know what they just handled before their interaction with you … This sometimes makes for grumpy cops, but we’re all human.”
Angelino referenced the bust on Plymouth Street in the City of Norwich that happened last year, and explained how much of a process it was to finally apprehend the individuals charged.
“The neighbors were calling all the time. People went through Hell for weeks, and some got fed up and thought we didn’t care,” he said. “This is America. We can’t just go kick the door in.”
In the end, the department was able to get a search warrant, used flash-bangs and entered the property and arrested those within the dwelling in possession of heroin. Following the bust, neighbors came out to thank the officers, and they later provided the department with pizza and soda, Angelino said.
He said the neighbors in the community were afraid other drug dealers or users were going to return to the house, and the department contemplated placing an old patrol car out front, but thought that it might get vandalized. He said another officer suggested placing a sign on the house reading, “Closed.” This sparked the idea to use spray paint.
“I spray painted the house with the message,” said Angelino. The message read, “NPD says: Go away! No more drugs here!”
The group applauded the chief after sharing those details regarding the bust to the members.
Angelino stressed the importance of both submitting tips via phone and online. The number to call and leave an anonymous tip is 336-TIPS. Tips can also be submitted via the NPD web site, npdtips.com.
“If you see something happening, like a robbery taking place or someone beating another person, please call 911 right away,” Angelino added.
Patience was also a key focus of the chief’s message. “Drug dealers are notoriously late. They aren’t very good businessmen. They are unreliable. They don’t show up when they’re supposed to,” he said. “This makes our job harder. If we have information a dealer is going to be somewhere at a certain time, they are late or never show. We get something set up and then the deal doesn’t happen, and we just spent $400 in overtime.”
Said Angelino, “But the fact of the matter is it is more important to get the mission accomplished. I’ll worry about the money. We have rules to follow so we can be sure the DA has the best case possible. Trials are very expensive. Again, patience is key here. I know it is Hell, but we will get the mission accomplished.”
The chief told attendees not to handle matters on their own for their own safety, but if they have tips or information, to share them with the department instead.
When asked by a group member what was needed to make the NPD “better,” Angelino said one more officer on the force would make a tremendous difference. He also noted his desire for another K9. As it stands, NPD’s one dog – named Weeks – is only working the day shift.
Many in attendance said Norwich is no longer a desirable place to live. Angelino said, “I know you think it’s bad, but it’s not that bad. It’s not like someone is getting mugged and robbed while walking out of the deli.” He did attest that drugs are a huge issue in the area, but that is a statewide issue, he said.
“I appreciate all of you for being here tonight. My best suggestion is to submit tips to us or call us. If we say we are working on something, we really are,” said Angelino.
A resident then addressed the crowd for a moment and said she wanted it to be know that, “If someone is going to bring a person in from another city, we will know about it and get you out of here.”
Assistant District Attorney Ferrarese offered his expertise from the legislative aspect.
“I do admire very much that you are all here tonight,” he said. “If you notice someone behaving in a way that is unlawful, please call the police. Your job is not to get in their face and have a confrontation. Let the officers make lawful arrests so that the District Attorney’s Office can they efficiently prosecute.”
Ferrarese explained the two aspects to the crowd, and again mentioned how patience is key. “The first aspect is with the police and the investigation; the second is with the DA and the courtroom.”
“I would stress – and I think Mr. McBride would too – the importance of making a presence in the courtroom for proceedings,” added Ferrarese.
He told the group that those on the side of the “people” should sit in the side of the courtroom closest to the jury box.
Members shared their frustrations about light drug sentences, and how they feel that shock programs are not effective. Some stated they do not agree with letting a defendant plea to a lesser charge.
“What I am trying to convey to you here tonight is that one huge difference you can make is showing up to court. It is open to the public, anyone can go, and it will make a difference,” Ferrarese said.
Chenango County Undersheriff Dan Frair said he looks forward to getting out of his suit and on to the streets. Frair has worked in narcotics with the Binghamton PD for seven years, and brings more than a decade of experience in investigations for Broome County’s task force.
“We are all going to work together,” Frair added. “It will take time, but we will do it. We are here to help.”
The next meeting of the Taking Back Chenango County group is set to be held at 7 p.m., on Jan. 27 at the Sherburne American Legion. The meeting is open to the public and not restricted to Sherburne residents. Anyone who has attended prior meetings is encouraged to bring another person with them who has interest in the group but has not yet attended a meeting.
For further information on the group, visit facebook.com/takingbackchenangocounty.
To submit a tip to the NPD visit npdtips.com or call 336-TIPS. In the event of an emergency, call 911.