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Mulhern: Groton is safe; growth poses little threat
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GROTON — Although residents should not keep their doors unlocked at night, they can sleep safe in their beds with the knowledge that Groton is a safe community, according to police Chief Robert Mulhern.

The town is likely to remain safe, he said, because of continuing public education and outreach by local law enforcement officials and the dedication of individual police officers keeping a protective eye on neighborhoods and back roads.

“People should feel safe in Groton,” said Mulhern. “We have an excellent Police Department, which supports the community policing concept and our officers are capable of handling any policing matters that come before them.”

Over the years, the town’s Police Department has built itself into a force of 17 full-time officers who patrol Groton in four cruisers and multiple shifts.

The department is backed up by a number of larger policing agencies that can be called upon to offer the combined experience of hundreds of officers and departments throughout the Middlesex and Essex County areas.

Which is not to say that Groton suffers from a high crime rate.

“We get a few violent crimes, but not very often,” said Mulhern. “I would have to say that vandalism is probably the most prevalent type of crime in town. Others include domestic disputes between individuals and some larceny but not a lot, and probably reports of suspicious activity, persons, and vehicles … and accidents, too; those are the primary ones we get.”

Groton is located within a triangle bordered by such large metropolitan areas as greater Lowell, Fitchburg/Leominster and Worcester where spillage from those more volatile urban communities might be expected to affect the town’s crime rate but Mulhern said that so far, it has not.

“Not to any degree other than traffic issues,” said the chief adding that the town has had its share of vandalism from personal property to motor vehicles. “We have had more burglaries in the last year than usual, but it’s still a small number.”

Mulhern said that although his department has averaged only about 100 arrests annually, thousands of citations are given out in the same period of time.

“We get complaints all the time about speeding and traffic so we try to approach the problem in two ways,” Mulhern said. “One is through education and information and the other is enforcement. We have a speed trailer and we use that quite often. Every day in fact.”

That said, the town has not been without its problems, some of a serious nature.

In 2002, for instance, a survey of students in the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District revealed that in many categories of destructive behavior such as drug and alcohol use, sexual activity and suicide, the district’s students equaled or exceeded the state average. The results of the survey sent shock waves through the two communities resulting in a number of efforts to address the issue.

Since then, a subsequent survey conducted in 2004 reported slight drops in alcohol use by students in grades 9-12 to 72 percent while 29 percent still claimed to have been involved in “binge” drinking.

Slight declines were also reported in marijuana use with 40 percent of high schoolers having at least tried it. The acquisition of drugs while on school property also declined.

“I would say that the presence of illegal drugs in town is on a par with other communities of our own size and demographics,” said Mulhern. “We have some drug involvement and we usually do some drug seizures every year. But it’s more of a minor problem for us.”

Mulhern said that his department’s involvement with drug crimes has mostly been with marijuana use, although there have been some cocaine-related investigations and a “very limited exposure to designer drugs like GHB.

“Also, we have had some investigation of date rape drugs but those cases are hard to prove,” Mulhern said.

Alcohol, however, is still the drug of choice by local youth with police frequently asked to investigate house parties where minors might be drinking.

But while acknowledging the seriousness of the problem, Mulhern emphasized the more positive results of recent surveys and cited the efforts of the school system, church groups and such community-based organizations as GDAY (Groton-Dunstable Alliance for Youth) as being largely responsible for the improvement.

“Their efforts have really worked to reduce the use of alcohol and drugs by youngsters,” said Mulhern. “I would say that our numbers are not as high. There has been no spike in alcohol or drug usage.”

Although that may be true for the time being, the town has recently entered a period of increased growth. There is new commercial construction along Route 119 and are a number of subdivision and Chapter 40B residential housing projects in development or on the horizon.

“I am not overly concerned about the recent growth in local retail and residential housing,” Mulhern said. “The Growth Management Committee has asked me about that and my estimate is that we’re pretty well staffed right now and in the next five years might need to add a few patrolmen to the force. But I’m not expecting any sudden burst of activity as a result of increased growth. In fact, I don’t expect any major changes in the crime situation over the next year. The Police Department is going to continue with its community policing programs and selective enforcement.”

Selective enforcement is a strategy in which the police target particular neighborhoods for regular patrols in response to requests by residents, a strategy that the chief said has proven effective.

“I think Groton is one of the best towns in New England to raise a family,” said Mulhern.

Mulhern said the Police Department will continue its program of outreach to the community through a number of venues.

“The Police Department is also involved with other town departments,” explained Mulhern. “Within the town, we work with the seniors and are very active in the school system with the DARE program and such. Also, we are involved in cooperative programs at the library.”

Finally, said Mulhern, the department continues to find new ways to reach out to the public, most recently with its new Web site that interested residents can find at Grotonpd.org.

“We intend to be very aggressive in our community policing efforts,” concluded the chief. “But overall, the law enforcement situation in town is stable and we don’t see much of a change (over the next few years).”

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