Middletown town hall meeting to focus on violence

City manager: Staffing, technology are ways to help combat problems.

Middletown City Manager Paul Lolli said he wants to hear from the community in Tuesday night’s town hall meeting to address recent violence in the city, including shots fired from moving vehicles.

“I want to hear what people have to say. We are not going to make any decisions, but I want to hear from citizens and different groups,” Lolli said.

“One of my biggest concerns is we have had a rash of shots fired and shootings, and it appears they are shooting at each other in vehicles driving down the street. That’s crazy,” he told the Journal-News. “An innocent person is going to get caught in the melee.”

“Safer Communities for All: A Town Hall Meeting on Curbing Violence in Middletown” will be held on at 5:30 p.m. in Middletown City Council chambers.

“The violence must stop, and we believe that by bringing the community together, we can collectively come up with lasting solutions that will make our city safer now and into the future,” Lolli said.

He added there is always a way to address problems.

“And we hope we can find that solution that makes the streets safer for people,” Lolli said.

Community and civic leaders, business owners, church leaders and residents are all invited to participate in the town hall meeting. The goal of the town hall is to have an honest discussion on how the community and city can come together to protect all people who live, work and visit Middletown.

Staffing and retention of police officers were a concern of council members during a special meeting last week to take a preliminary look at the city 2025 budget.

The division of police currently has an authorized force of 80 officers. But the force currently has 75 officers with seven in academy training, which takes months to complete. Then they are assigned to a training officer before patrolling alone, according to police and city officials.

“We are probably about 10 short,” the city manager said.

Retention is a challenge and may require more financial resources in the form of pay raises.

The city will also have to identify as it grows, especially in the East End, “exactly how many police officers are we going to need, exactly how many firefighters are we going to need within the next five years,” Lolli said.

He estimated the city will need a police force of “at least 90 police officers in the next five years without a doubt.”

Councilman Steve West II called the uptick in crime early into the warm weather months not only violent but “brash.”

Looking at making significant investments in technology and non-traditional measures, such as additional Flock cameras, is also needed outside of an additional headcount of officers, according to West.

“Because .. if they are going to shoot each other up, it is going to be a problem,” West said.

Mayor Elizabeth Slamka said after talking with residents and officers, there is a need for more officers and speeding is a concern for many residents.

“Traffic officers is something I have been thinking about,” Slamka said.

Both council members Zack Ferrell and Paul Horn supported investment in public safety with officers but also technology to up the crime fighting techniques.

Ferrell said nuisance abatement in neighborhoods might make it less attractive to criminals coming into the city.

“Is it an attractive city for crime?” Ferrell said. “What can we do outside of traditional policing to get this city to a point where we hold our head high?”

Lolli called the issue “fluid” with a need for a two-pronged approach.

“Sometimes it is not about having more police officers or more firefighters. We really need to look at the technology that will be just as effective as more boots on the streets, but without a doubt we need boots on the street,” he said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

On May 17, occupants of vehicles on Roosevelt Boulevard were involved in a disturbance during the early morning hours with shots fired. A female was dropped off at the hospital minutes later with a gunshot wound, and the driver of one of the cars then wrecked when he hit a pole. One arrest has been made and a warrant is out for the arrest for another suspect who is on the run, according to police.

A 19-year-old man was killed early on the morning of May 12 morning on Sheffield Street in a drive-by shooting that injured two others. Shots were also reported fired the same night on Shafor Street and Central Avenue. No arrest made.

On April 16, a 26-year-old man was killed in an apparent road rage incident in the city’s downtown. No charges have been filed yet.

On April 14, two people were shot in the legs at Middletown’s Douglass Park on Minnesota Street. The case is still under investigation.

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