Manchester police are walking the beat in ‘hot spot’ neighborhoods. Not everyone is happy about it.
Lieutenant Matthew Barter parks his cruiser near the intersection of Union and Auburn early on a Thursday afternoon, checks in with dispatch, and begins walking the beat.
The 13-year veteran of the Manchester Police Department passes by Seven Days Market, the scene of a drive-by shooting in April that injured three people, and then heads down an alley.
Barter used to patrol this part of town from behind the wheel a cruiser, working the 4pm to 12am shift, responding to call after call after call.
“You don’t have that opportunity to stop, talk to people,” he says.
But today, he chats with everyone he sees, and checks in on shopkeepers.
“For a young officer, this could be kind of boring,” Barter says. “But what I try to tell them is: Just because you think you are not doing anything, you are doing something. You’re walking that beat, your presence in that area has impacts, that matters, what you do matters.”
In August, the Manchester Police Department announced it would conduct more foot patrols of what it calls “hot spot” neighborhoods in the city: Those that have seen the highest rates of violent crimes. That includes this part of town, just a five minute walk east from the SNHU Arena. It includes a grid of multifamily housing, a few convenience stores, a barber shop.
The strategy, known as “community policing,” is simple: Bring cops and the people they’re assigned to protect closer together and make law enforcement more visible, so that ideally crime doesn’t happen in the first place.
But the enhanced police presence isn’t welcomed by everyone in Manchester, including activists who fear it will lead to more profiling and arrests of Black and brown residents, rather than investments in social services that could improve the neighborhood.
“Continuing to invest in a larger criminal legal system and a larger law enforcement apparatus does not make our community safer,” Grace Kindeke, a community organizer and activist says. “It puts more of our community members in the criminal legal system. And once you are in, you cannot get out."
No Easy Fix
The idea of police officers walking the beat, checking in on store owners, saying hello to passerbys, is not exactly a fresh concept.
But the new version, under the banner of community policing, is, at least in part, a reaction to a decline in trust in law enforcement in many communities, especially since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer.
“That murder of George Floyd occurred in Minneapolis, thousands of miles away from here, and in today’s day and age, we feel those effects here in Manchester,” Barter says. He says law enforcement is facing a “crisis of legitimacy.”
The enhanced visibility of officers and the more positive interactions they will create — at least in theory — are meant to overcome that crisis and increase trust.
It won’t be an easy fix.
“It is in the air we breathe that police have treated people of color wrongly,” James McKim, president of the Manchester chapter of the NAACP, says. “For many people, just the presence of a police force, the presence of a police officer, is stressful.”
That’s a feeling Kindeke shares. An organizer with deep roots in this community, Kindeke moved to Manchester when she was two years old with her family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She knows the neighborhood where the new foot patrols are happening.
“A lot of the same businesses are here,” she says during a walk along Union Street. “The physical landscape stayed the same, but the diversity in people has definitely increased.”
Kindeke opposes the increased police presence, and scoffs at the phrase ‘community policing.’ To her, that ignores what it feels like to be a resident here.
“Can you imagine going about your daily business and...you just see the same officer over and over again? Would you feel comfortable? Would you feel like, yeah, they are just here to keep me safe?” she says with a laugh. “Or would you be like, no they are watching me. They are looking for me to do something.”
Kindeke wants a different approach.
Yes, she says, the city should be paying more attention to this part of town, but not by increasing spending on police.
“For me, it's like, the investments should be there, but the investments should go to ensure people have adequate housing. That they have access to food, that they have access to jobs, they have access to good education,” she says. “But instead, what we are seeing is increased law enforcement, which does not address those root causes.”
‘I Know It Is Real For People’
Every two years, the topic of law enforcement and public safety bubbles up in the mayor’s race. On Tuesday, voters will choose between incumbent Joyce Craig and challenger Victoria Sullivan.
Sullivan has been holding pro-police ‘Back the Blue’ events and warns of a spike in crime. Craig counters that during her four years in office, the crime rate has steadily declined, and the police department has been awarded funding to add 30 new officers.
Data from the police department shows that between 2016 and 2020, the rate of both violent crime and property crime in Manchester declined. Though if you look at specific categories, the number of assaults has inched up, and motor vehicle theft is slightly higher.
“Overall it’s a good neighborhood, and most of the people are friendly. But obviously, it is infected with crime and drugs,” Pastor John Rivera says. He leads Hope Tabernacle Church, in the same neighborhood where the increased foot patrols are happening.
Light pours in through rectangular stained glass windows in the church’s sanctuary, where each week Rivera leads non-denominational Christian services to a congregation he describes as multicultural and multigenerational.
“Which I like, because it represents the community that we are in,” he says.
Hope Tabernacle offers free hot breakfasts to the community two mornings a week, and it has partnered with a local homeless shelter on cold nights to offer additional space.
Rivera says there is a role for the faith community, as well as social service agencies, in trying to improve the quality of life in this part of Manchester. But he also welcomes the increased police presence.
“I see that it does help,” he says. “It is not the one and only solution, but it does deter crime. It does deter people from just hanging out, and when people are just hanging out, a lot of times, they just get into trouble.”
Still, Rivera understands that increased policing is not welcomed by everyone.
“The positive for me outweighs that negative. And I'm not saying that negative is not real for people. I know it is real for people. But I like the positive,” he says.
That’s a Problem
Lieutenant Barter’s foot patrol passes close to the church.
Except for someone drinking a beer in a neighborhood park, his beat walk this sunny Thursday was uneventful.
Barter knows anything the police do right now is going to be controversial. It has become harder to earn the public’s trust, and with that, harder to find cooperation, including right here in this neighborhood, where he wants to solve recent crimes.
“When we have three individuals who get shot outside Seven Days Market and nobody wants to talk to the police about what happened, that’s a problem,” he says. “When we have a murder in this neighborhood, and no one wants to talk, and tell us what happened, yet we know folks saw it, that’s a problem.”
Barter knows changing the narrative is going to be difficult.
“It is going to take time, but it is probably going to be one of the hardest things we have to work on,” he says.