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Bristol Police Chief Will Pass on the Danish

Selectmen take offense at Lewis’ preference for ‘boots on the street’

By Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — The Bristol Board of Selectmen, emphasizing that appearances are important to the town, took Police Chief Michael Lewis to task last week for not joining officers from other communities at a regional conference to discuss the opioid epidemic.

Lewis remained silent while Chair Rick Alpers and selectman Leslie Dion said the lack of a Bristol officer at the conference made it appear that Bristol was not interested in solving the drug problem.

“There’s got to be someone in your department that’s interested in attending,” Alpers said. “It could be a patrolman; it doesn’t have to be the chief.”

Dion said, “I get it that you’re seeing it from the front lines and can get jaded, but we have to strike a balance, and that struck me at that conference, that all the other departments were there, and nobody from Bristol. It could be a manpower issue, but it’s visual.”

When Lewis did respond to the criticism, Alpers took offense.

“If I had the option to be the only duty unit on duty, or attend a meeting to have a Danish, I want to be here with boots on the street, helping my men and women,” Lewis said. “Not 48 hours ago, one of the officers of the Newfound Region was hit with fentanyl and was rushed to the hospital, and the individual [responsible] was booked at the Bristol Police Department. The officer’s safety on a daily basis or a nightly basis is far more of a priority of mine.”

“I’m asking how Bristol can play a larger role in the discussion,” Alpers said. “I don’t like the way you responded.”

The exchange rekindled a dispute from earlier this year when selectmen objected to Lewis’ decision to issue a Facebook warning after a discarded hypodermic needle was found near Kelley Park. News media pick up the story, leading selectmen to complain that it was giving Bristol a bad reputation to acknowledge that drugs are a problem here. Selectmen later reconsidered and got behind the chief’s decision to emphasize the potential danger of picking up discarded drug paraphernalia.

Lewis maintains that the drug problem is multi-faceted and “a lot more than posters and group meetings and hugs” — a reference to Plymouth’s Communities for Alcohol and Drug-Free Youth. “We have an excellent working relationship with CADY,” Lewis said, noting he is on the executive board, and “It’s our only continuous success with the way the justice system has changed.”

But, he said, “A lot of people don’t think you can arrest your way out of it. If you’re incarcerated, you can’t take any drugs. When you’re released, you need to have steps and a support group.”

He was critical of recent legislative changes that he said are handcuffing police departments, saying that, with a relaxation of laws prohibiting possession of marijuana, he can now issue a $255 citation to a youth for possession of Marlboro cigarettes but “they can have a joint and we can’t touch it”.

Lewis said the elementary and middle schools are being hit hard by the problem. “We’re having a greater number of dangerous calls regarding the use of drugs, or domestic-type calls because the dads and moms are using the drugs. … The court system flat out tells us you will not submit juvenile justice paperwork in that court system shy of a Class A felony for crimes against persons.”

He went on to say, “Manpower comes into play, and education comes into play. This community has only asked for 17 years for a school resource officer, but it keeps getting turned down.”

15 June 2017

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