Ayer’s crime climate “hasn’t changed at all” over 11 years

Data compiled by Ayer Polie Department
Ayer Police Chief William Murray provided the Ayer Board of Selectmen with a grid showing the crime statistics for the town for dozens of offenses from 2000 through 2011. Murray said the figures show the town’s crime rate has held steady despite “unfortunate” recent crimes to the contrary.

AYER – “Is there a drug problem in Ayer?” asked Ayer Police Chief William Murray. He answered the question, “The answer to that is no.”

While there has been two violent drug-related incidents in Ayer in recent months, Murray told the selectmen on Tuesday night that it was just an “unfortunate” coincidence in timing.

Murray provided a grid of crime statistics over the last 11 years. He said the numbers tell the bigger story of stability in Ayer’s crime rate. To tamp down on those figures, Murray advocated the creation of neighborhood watch groups and he appealed to the selectmen to help drum up support for the program.

“To get it [the crime rates] down, we need the community’s help,” said Murray. A community watch is just one idea, Murray said. “It’s just people talking to people.” Murray appealed to residents to contact police with information about things such as increased activity around one home or another, for example.

The focus on Ayer’s crime rate came following a passionate Jan. 10 plea by resident Dan Gleason to the Ayer Board of Selectmen, asking the board to lead an investigation into the crime and drug climate in Ayer. Gleason’s call came less than a week after the Jan. 4 death of Corey Buxton, 15, of Shirley.

Buxton was allegedly robbed by two Ayer teens. Moments later when Buxton gave chase against the culprits along West Main Street, he was struck and killed by two passing cars.

One of the two arrested was a 16-year old juvenille. The other, 17-year old Robert Malcolm of Ayer, allegedly bragged during a drug buy later that same night that he was buying drugs with the money he’d just robbed from Buxton, and acknowledged that he fled the scene in a car without knowing Buxton’s condition after the victim had been struck by the cars.

Three weeks later, a drug-deal-gone-bad allegedly fueled violence in the parking lot of the Hannaford Supermarket on Fitchburg Road. Two men were arrested in New Hampshire and were arraigned in Ayer District Court on attempted murder charges for allegedly strangling and robbing a drug customer in the victim’s car on Jan. 25.

Murray said he’d reached out to Gleason, who also is a member of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee. Gleason “couldn’t be here tonight” said Murray, but said he’d asked Gleason to become involved in a neighborhood watch model.

Murray said he met with Ayer-Shirley Regional School Superintendent Carl Mock. Murray said that while there’s “not an increased problem” at the middle or high school, “that doesn’t mean there’s not more we can do to build some bridges with these kids.”

On Friday, Feb. 17, Shirley and State Police converged on the region’s Shirley Middle School upon reports of an 8th grade student with two knives and an unloaded pistol in his locker. The weapons were seized. There was no ammunition found with the pistol. Due to privacy laws, the school stated on the district’s Facebook page that it cannot reveal what disiplinary actions are being taken against the student.

Murray suggested “we’re going to be part of the curriculum” when the health classes turn to drug and alcohol discussions with students. “Maybe we can come in and speak,” suggested Murray about all aspects of the public safety concerns.

Murray said there used to be monthly meetings between the schools and police under prior Police Chief Richard Rizzo. Murray noted with the loss of the department’s 18th officer, there was also the loss of a trained school resource police officer to interface with students more directly. “We don’t have the resources, and they [the schools] don’t have the resources to fund that sort of thing.”

Murray said he’s investigated other forms of funding and grants but hasn’t been able to locate one that fits the bill for a school resource officer.

He thanked the newspaper and cable commission for “help in relaying any message we want to get out there.” At this time, Murray said the plea is for folks to call in tips and get involved in a community watch network.

Ayer selectman Frank Maxant liked the idea, calling such a program a “nosy neighbor” approach which can yield great results. “Don’t hesitate to contact the police with anything, anything at all,” said Maxant. “There’s a problem and you can be a part of a solution.”

Murray asked the selectmen to leave the follow up to him. “I think you are taking a leadership role. See fit to give me the leeway to do what I have to do. You don’t need to do my job for me or be looking over my shoulder.”

Selectman Jim Fay suggested monthly or quarterly updates from the police on the status of the crime fix. Meanwhile, selectman Pauline Conley challenged Murray on a memo he sent to the selectmen indicating that grant funding opportunities from the Lenny Zakim and Team Harmony programs have run dry.

Murray’s memo states that the Zakim program “donates money to small grass roots organizations that fight for positive social change” and that Team Harmony donates to “organizations seeking to combat hatred and bigotry.” Murray said the groups’ missions don’t match Ayer’s needs.

“I don’t think we should disregard them simply because whatever they give us is minimal,” said Conley. “Something is better than nothing.” Conley asked Murray to provide the selectmen with the estimated cost of recreating the school resource officer position and the cost of the necessary training. “If that’s something that Supt. Mock or the Shirley and Ayer Police Departments can find a way to fund, then let’s do it.”

— Follow Mary E. Arata on Twitter at @MaryEArata.