BERLIN – A community meeting in support of anti-crime initiative Take Pride in Berlin has yielded some positive results, according to Berlin elected officials who attended the event last week.
Several Berlin elected officials informally discussed the Take Pride in Berlin indoor picnic held last weekend during the council comments section of Monday night’s town council meeting. The picnic was reportedly attended by 50 community members.
Mayor Gee Williams called the event “a very productive discussion” on ways to reduce and finally eliminate open-air drug markets in Berlin, particularly on the east side of town.
“The overall impression I got there is that things had improved … it was a very positive discussion,” said Williams.
A permanent solution supported by many of those at the picnic is to find better ways for youth to spend time, including character building and team work promoting activities, Williams reported.
The community felt that the multi-purpose building, which is slated to be demolished and a new structure built on that site in the future, should be used for recreational and other programs to occupy youth and give them a different direction, Williams said.
Councilwoman Lisa Hall said she came away from the picnic with the realization that the neighborhood does not need to wait for a shiny new building to make a difference.
“It’s not the building things come from, it’s the people in them,” said Hall.
“These are all ideas that came from the folks that were there,” said Williams. “The suggestions they made were very thoughtful and very reasonable.”
Any new initiatives would probably need a part-time paid coordinator, it was suggested.
“I think the meeting went well in part due to the leadership of our mayor,” said Council member Dean Burrell. “Gee led the discussion in a non-threatening inclusive way. I was very pleased to see our mayor so sensitive to the needs of the group and really able to respond very positively.”
“I was very encouraged. I left there energized,” Williams said.
People seemed very anxious to be involved, Williams said, and the town needs to harness peoples’ energy and enthusiasm.
Williams said does not feel like Berlin has a terrible crime problem, but he admitted there are drug-related issues that exist and need to be addressed by authorities.
The Take Pride in Berlin initiative, a cooperative effort between the State’s Attorney’s Office and various local law enforcement agencies, is a concentrated policing effort which began in May and saw its first major conviction this month, when a Berlin man, Graylin Spence, was sentenced to 25 years without parole for dealing illegal drugs.
With the continued enthusiasm of the community, the town must keep fighting back. “We got an opportunity. The time’s right, now,” said Williams.
People on the east side also feel that for the first time, Hall said, that Town Hall is offering its support against the drug problem.
“They know if they see something, something’s going to get done,” said Hall.
Councilman Elroy Brittingham suggested tapping in to the Berlin Intermediate School (BIS) after-school program, which already works with young people to give them more direction academically and otherwise.
“Maybe that might work,” Brittingham said.
The Berlin Police Department already supports the BIS program, Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said, although it is not the police department’s role.
“For us to go ahead and assist and support, that’s what’s needed,” said Downing.
Trust and mutual respect must be established with the east side neighborhoods experiencing these crime problems, Williams felt.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Williams.
The mayor likened the envisioned volunteer efforts as a parallel to economic development efforts made years ago, which began with individual business owners volunteering, turned into a part-time development coordinator and then turned into a full-time economic development position.
The town council offered no concrete next steps to take during the informal discussion.