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Selectmen opt to leave safety, crime fix to Ayer police chief

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AYER — A resident pled with Ayer selectmen to take a leadership role in gagging the degree of crime and, more particularly, drug-fueled incidents in town. The emotional Jan. 10 request was made by Daniel Gleason, who spoke as an individual but who also serves on the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee.

Gleason’s call came less than a week after the Jan. 4 death of Corey Buxton, 15, of Shirley, who was allegedly robbed by two teens and then struck by two cars on West Main Street when he apparently tried to chase after the culprits himself. Two Ayer teens have been implicated in the case.

One of the two teens, 17-year old Robert Malcolm, allegedly bragged during a drug buy later that evening that he was purchasing drugs with the money stolen from Buxton, adding that he knew Buxton had been hit by a car.

“I don’t think there’s been an increase in activity in the town of Ayer,” said Ayer Police Chief William Murray to the Ayer Board of Selectmen on Jan. 26. “I’ve seen far worse. I think we’ve come a long way and can do more to make the town less attractive for drugs.”

Selectmen Chairman Gary Luca advised the board that Murray will come up with recommendations for the board. Luca said that he, Murray, Lt. Brian Gill, and Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand had met to discuss the situation. Selectman Jim Fay happened upon the meeting and also apparently participated in the off-line discourse.

Selectman Pauline Conley suggested a different track, and called for the formation of a study group comprised of many stakeholders. “I wanted this discussion in open session,” said Conley, who handed out a packet of emails she’d sent since Gleason’s original request.

“Mr. Gleason touched me emotionally when he was here. I propose we create a Safety Committee, for lack of a better term,” said Conley. “Maybe we should have the committee name itself for a change.”

But the group Conley proposed would be comprised of at least one of the police department’s two detectives, selectmen, members of the regional School Committee and possibly, too, Superintendent Cark Mock. Conley suggested a high school student also be empaneled along with at least one parent. Finally Conley suggested there be a liaison appointed by Ayer District Court’s Probation office.

Conley suggested that Murray serve as the group’s chairman. The group would collect and analyze historical crime data, though Conley noted that the Annual Town Reports over the last five years tends to suggest a “relatively consistent pattern” for crime, with no murders reported.

Conley said she also explored funding mechanisms to aid in the town’s research and in forging a solution, if any were needed. Conley suggested a return of DARE officers to counsel students about drugs, and praised proactive neighborhood groups like the Devenscrest crime watch group, the only one of its kind in Ayer.

Conley encouraged the committee be empanelled and that it return with findings as soon as possible, noting that Gleason was scheduled to return to the board on Feb. 7 for a status report on the board’s response. “So I’ve done my good deed as I promised I would,” said Conley.

“I don’t think anyone’s put it on the back burner,” said Luca. “I tend to want to go with the direction the chief’s going. He hasn’t even done the stuff he wants to do.”

“There are things that we’ve already talked about and wanted to do and plan to bring to the public,” said Murray, who said his notions were “almost a verbatim list” of like ideas. “We’re on the same page.”

Selectman Frank Maxant made mention to the police response to an incident on Fitchburg Road that occurred the prior day. Two men were arrested in New Hampshire following a drug deal gone bad in the parking lot of the Hannaford supermarket.

“You’re making the town less hospitable for (drug) users,” said Maxant. “Congratulations on it.”

“That’s confidential at this time,” said Murray. At that point, the investigation into the crime was not complete. I wish I could say more.”

But Murray said the department in general is more proactive then before. “When I first became chief, there was only one detective. I brought the other one on.”

Fay said he “sat in briefly” for the meeting with the Murray and Luca. He said he, too, “reached out as Pauline has done to the schools and Dan (Gleason).” Fay said he preferred to “keep the group small” adding “too many cooks spoil the soup.”

Fay concluded by saying, “Safety is our first priority in this business.”

“Are we going to address the homeless situation in Ayer?” asked Mary Spinner from the audience. “There are many.”

“This came out of Mr. Gleason’s request,” answered Luca.

“But it’s a huge issue,” pressed Spinner.

“Personally, I think this is in the chief’s purview,” said Selectman Carolyn McCreary. “It’s his job to lead this and take care of it. I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to take a lead role.”

Conley asked for a summary of the prior meeting Luca held with Murray.

“More or less we talked about the same thing,” said Luca. “Jim barged in. We talked about what kind of strategies we need. We want to see what types of programs we can put I place. We said go from there and come back and let the board know where you are in a couple of meetings.”

The selectmen agreed that Murray would present an initial report at its Feb. 21 meeting.

Murray made his own plea to the people of Ayer — if you have information, please dial it in to the police.

“For some reason there’s a terrible time getting the word out to people. This is a community issue. It’s not just police, schools and the selectmen. It’s all society.”

“They have to work together. You’ve got to do the work too,” said Murray. “It can’t just be us.”

“People just don’t want to participate,” said Murray. “The criminals around here feed on apathy and fear. Take that away and they’ve got nothing.”

“We have confidence you’ll take this in the right direction and get the help. And it’s difficult. You guys can’t just do it by itself,” said Luca. “It needs the whole ball of wax. Thanks for taking the lead on it.”