It’s midday on a hot summer afternoon in the city and a small group of park regulars are hanging out in the shade, most of them seated stadium style on the stone risers in the middle of Victory Park. Next to them, parked on the bricks, is an empty police cruiser.
The rear windows are down with a clear view into the backseat through metal window bars, but there’s no cop in sight.
“They’re recording us,” said one woman sitting with two others on the bench. “There’s a 360 dash cam in there. You’re on camera right now,” she said. “It’s how they keep an eye on things here. A cop told us.”
A closer inspection of the dashboard did not reveal an active dash cam. However, two bicycle patrol officers who pulled up on Concord Street a few minutes later helped clear things up.
“If that’s what they want to believe, and it helps, that’s great,” said one of the officers, when asked about the cop-less cruiser.
The official word from Manchester Police Sgt. Brian O’Keefe is that it’s a common police tactic.
“We have been parking cruisers inside of the park since last summer. Mostly Victory and Veterans parks, and that is what prompted the park people to migrate to Bronstein over the last year,” O’Keefe said. “In crime-related terms it is called displacement. Basically, police clean out a target area and it displaces the crime to another area of the city.”
If that is the case, then it has been working, as Bronstein Park has been this summer’s place to be – not so much for law-abiding citizens, but for people overdosing on drugs, and the police and rescue personnel responding to their urgent calls for service.
Mayor Ted Gatsas has been under fire this week for some of the swift action he took in the aftermath – shutting down three convenience stores suspected of selling spice after more than 40 people suffered medical emergencies from ingesting the synthetic substance, and then restricting public access at Bronstein Park during school hours.
“What would you do if you were mayor?” said Gatsas, as much an open question as it was directed at those who have criticized him for “unilaterally” making decisions without consulting the board of aldermen, and setting the city up for legal action.
“With 48 overdoses there’s a public risk, and it’s within my ability to enforce an ordinance that’s already on the books,” Gatsas says.
He suggests it’s politics at play more than a genuine concern for the public good.
In an interview on Aug. 25 with Manchester Ink Link, Alderman Garth Corriveau said by leaving aldermen out of the loop, Gatsas is exhibiting an “imperialistic attitude.”
In response to that, Gatsas says if Corriveau – or any alderman – says they weren’t apprised of his intentions, they didn’t read their email.
And to that, Corriveau says the mayor should have gone through “proper channels,” both legal and governmental, before handing down executive decisions that test the U.S. Constitution by revoking business licenses and restricting public access to a public park without due process or regard for the right to assemble.
“The decision to close the park to the public hasn’t been vetted, just as his decision to shut down three businesses. This is sort of Constitutional law 101. It brings to mind what Benjamin Franklin said, ‘They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,'” Corriveau said.
He suggested city residents were in need of a better answer to a complex issue that, so far, has not been satisfied through the legal or punitive avenues pursued by Gatsas.
“The rest of us elected officials have to start taking the issue upon ourselves. We’re dealing with the legal ramifications and practical and political aftermath of what he’s done. It’s time to start asking questions and get the data behind these alleged public safety threats,” Corriveau said.
A special meeting of the Aldermanic Committee on Lands & Buildings to discuss Bronstein Park has been scheduled for Sept. 3 at 4 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers.