Taking Back Chenango expands dialogue to New Berlin

NEW BERLIN – Two of the county’s elected officials joined with the organizers of the Taking Back Chenango group and members of the New Berlin Police Department on Wednesday night at the Unadilla Valley Central School to discuss issues plaguing the community, and possible solutions to problems laid out.

While the turnout was lower than past meetings, there were members of the New Berlin community in attendance to voice their concerns regarding not only the drug problem, but also the influx of drug related crimes.

The Taking Back Chenango group has garnered more than 1,600 “Likes” on Facebook, where it got its roots, and various meetings have been held since its inception. The meeting in New Berlin was intended to introduce the mission to those in attendance, and provided an opportunity for Chenango County Sheriff Ernest R. Cutting Jr., Chenango County District Attorney Joe McBride, Undersheriff Dan Frair, and New Berlin Police Chief Dominic Commesso (and officers) to offer insight and answer community questions.

Elements from previous meetings were repeated – including the heroin epidemic and crimes related to it – and new commentary and ideas were offered by officials.

“There are two unique things happening,” said McBride. “One, the state has slowed the flow of prescriptions through a method that prevents ‘doctor shopping,’ and two, heroin has never been this cheap.” He added that the hope is – through education and awareness – that individuals with addiction are able to get help before they are “full blown junkies.”

McBride said that while Norwich seems to be in the spotlight in the county, the issues are not at all isolated to Norwich, citing recent arrests and crimes that have taken place in the New Berlin area.

“If you see something, call these guys,” said McBride, pointing to the local law enforcement present at the meeting. “The community has more information than we do, just call and let them know what’s going on in your neighborhood.”

McBride explained the drug related crimes taking place recently show no prejudice. “Burglaries can happen on Fair Street, or up at Aurora,” he said. “It could happen anywhere. Keep an eye on your neighborhood and your surroundings, and report suspicious activity. We don’t need a Zimmerman case here, just call the police, or me. My door is always open.”

Sheriff Cutting added similar statements, noting that the entire county – 911 miles of jurisdiction – has only one narcotics detective, but the CCSO is making headway and various important arrests.

“I’ve kicked a lot of doors in and gone after some very bad people,” said Undersheriff Frair citing his experience with narcotics in Binghamton. “Kicked in probably 500 doors in one year all in the City of Binghamton. We don’t have that many here, and we’re hoping to keep it that way. We are going to keep this a safe place.”

When asked what would help to make the area safer, Frair said, “More marked units isn’t going to do the trick.” He said the CCSO has plans for a new smartphone application that would allow members of the community to submit tips from their phone when they see or know something. He also referenced different ideas for undercover opportunities.

The New Berlin officers supported the statements made by the other officials present, adding that New Berlin seems to be a prime spot for criminals from Syracuse and Utica to carry out their activities, but the department is being proactive.

It was additionally stated that members of the New Berlin PD were present at a Taking Back Chenango meeting in Sherburne, that they attended on their own accord to show that they are supportive of the initiative.

Many who spoke at the meeting expressed that they’d appreciate the presence and support of both the town and village board members. One member of the Town of New Berlin Board, Roger Foote, was present and vocal at the meeting. It was stated by organizers that all were invited.

Organizers added that the group not only deals with drug addiction, but also domestic violence and bullying issues. Members said two addicts have reached out for help and they’ve been sent to treatment.

“At this point, there has been recent activity in New Berlin my office is dealing with,” said McBride. “I’m somewhat surprised more people aren’t here.”

Said Cutting, “I don’t know if we can truly stop it, but we can certainly put a dent in it. We’re here to help you, each community in the county is important to me. Let’s work together, awareness is everything, share what you know.”

Another meeting is to be scheduled in New Berlin in the near future with the hopes of a larger crowd.

A meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Feb. 20 at Howard Johnson’s in Norwich for concerned residents to discuss domestic violence, and representatives from Catholic Charities are set to speak.

To report a tip to the CCSO call 334-2000 or visit chenangosheriff.us.

The New Berlin Police can be reached by calling 847-8900.

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