Urban Safety Is Both Reality and Illusion

Small steps could assist in solving the larger issue.


The recent in Salem generated some interesting and, in a few cases, predictable comments.

There are those who said that Salem is not as safe as it used to be.

Some compared us unfavorably with Lynn, our larger neighbor to the south.

The , the homeless shelter at , low-income housing, and the new parking plan all came under criticism or were assigned blame.

Comparing us to Lynn, or any other neighboring community just does not work. Lynn has its issues as does every other community that we border. Any honest reading of police logs will bear that fact out. Drugs, assaults, and robberies are common across the North Shore. We are not special.

Picking on the police is too easy. With everything going on in society today, police work has become more difficult. Staffing issues brought on by budgetary constraints, increased oversight by the press and the public, and the emergence of a seemingly permanent public assistance mindset have turned police work into social work. 

Lifebridge is also easy to pick on. They are, after all, where those on the edges of society can be found. What began as a small operation above the old Bowman's Bakery on Essex Street has slowly evolved into a large enterprise with access to state and federal funding. Every year new transient characters converge on Salem beginning in late March and early April. One in particular has been sleeping in doorways on Washington Street for the last five months. This transient issue is a direct result of our having Lifebridge in our midst. Those that deny this are not being honest with themselves.

Low-income housing is a legitimate target. While many who use such services are in legitimate need, many are in fact those that have learned to ride the system for every penny.

Attacking the parking plan, in this case is just silly. Like it or not, it hasn't and won't affect crime rates in downtown Salem. 

There is an illusion out there about the days of old. We weren't really any more safe then than we are now. Bad people doing bad things have always been out there. There were thieves, muggers, rapists, and wife beaters back in the day just like there are now. I have been doing some research at the for a project. The police logs from the 1960s are quite the read. Robberies of small businesses were very common as were downtown assaults. Seldom are domestics or OUIs mentioned. Does that mean they weren't a problem then, or does it mean they were reported less?

The reality is everything is reported in the newspapers these days. Nothing is sacred. The days of your Uncle calling his buddy at the paper to keep your name from being made public are over.

Another more disturbing reality is the culture we have built where it has become acceptable to live off of the working class. We as a society have allowed entire generations to avoid being responsible to themselves. Why work when you can collect assistance, SSDI, food stamps, and live in public housing? 

Give some people something for nothing and they will surely want more. They will also figure out how to get it and will also develop a feeling of entitlement in other aspects of their lives.

"They" by the way, are not a particular "they." They come in all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities.

Salem is safe. It is also full of those who feel entitled to mooch for money at Walgreens, drink, sleep, and defecate on the river walk, and call for midnight EMT calls from inside the Greenlawn Cemetery forcing Salem Fire to cut the gate lock.

The problems we are experiencing reflect our society as a whole, not just Salem.

A small but solid first step would be for the city to finally address the panhandling issue through city ordinance.

TM July 30, 2012 at 01:37 PM
I agree with all that you said, but I also think the city is becoming more like Lynn every day. They are letting big developers come in and take over the commercial properties. These properties should be redeveloped for commercial use to make the city some money, instead they are letting them become residential. In the Mac Park area there are 3-4 residential properties being put in, that at least 1,000 new people to that area of Salem. One of the properties, "Legacy" is going to be 141 units of low income housing. Not sure about the others. Don't you think that adding 1,000 more people (to one area and there are more to be developed) will have an effect on the cities deficit, crime, and over crowding of schools. Wake up Mayor, we are becoming Lynn right before your eyes.
Bill July 30, 2012 at 01:51 PM
I'd like to hear from the Mayor what her specific plans are around crime and pan handling from the homeless. It seems she has lost some focus in the second term - no surprise there. Lots of talk about green garbage cans, bikes, tourism, food markets and other things to burnish her liberal cred for a run at another office. I don't see much improvement or in the traffic situation, nor crime.
redrhino July 30, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Here Here.... I am shocked that Salem doesn’t already have a no Panhandling Ordinance. City Council and Mayor please make this a priority as the stake of downtown business and tourism is at risk as well as the QOL issues that this brings.
adrienne July 30, 2012 at 02:17 PM
100% true! Social & cultural acceptance of crime, panhandling, low-income residents abusing the system,etc. have all contributed to the new reality of existence. I'm not saying that people should turn their heads & pretend that it doesn't exist. I try to focus on the positive things about the community & see all of the beauty that surrounds where I live. I'm also not afraid to walk thru the streets of Chinatown, Dorchester or Roxbury after midnight. Certainly, their Police logs are much scarier than here in Salem.
christine July 30, 2012 at 02:33 PM
The homeless that I see in Salem are homeless because they are drunks and the shelter won't let them in. 1 homeless guy has been warning people not to walk under the overpass because he was robbed and beat up for cigarettes and $5.00. The new multi story apt developments will tax our public safety resurces so any new tax money earned will quickley go to expanding police fire and schools. There are so many empty properties right now and our largest generation population the babyboomers are entering retirement and assisted living age. Who will fill these new Apt. New immigration? We don't have the jobs availabe for that!
john July 30, 2012 at 05:54 PM
It seems a little odd that you posted a poll question, and apparently don't agree with the concerns raised, so you are now saying the complaints are not justified.The problem is the drunks and homeless. Two more yesterday at 6pm drunk address-homeless. These two guys are in the police log regulalrly. Salem is safe but disgusting.
William Legault July 30, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I posted no poll questions. I disagree that Salem is not safe, however some of the issues raised in the poll are legitimate and I say so in the body of this column. To say that Salem is disgusting is certainly your right sir. I disagree.
john July 30, 2012 at 06:27 PM
I was reffering to Salem Patch,however I stand corrected. The comment in the poll speak for themselves. People eating out of the trash at DD and then throwing up is disgusting.
William Legault July 30, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Yes it is. Is that a Dunkin' Donuts issue, a Salem issue, or a societal issue? A bit of all three perhaps?
john July 30, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I think it is a Salem issue.It's the people of Salem that make Salem what it is.I also see the person in the wheel chair who urinates in his chair while he begs for money.I have compasion for him but again,it's the people of Salem.
William Legault July 31, 2012 at 01:16 AM
I don't hink I get your point here. What exactly do the "people" of Salem have to do with the guy in the wheelchair? What do dumpster divers at Dunkin' Donuts have to do with the "people" of Salem? When I worked at Roosevelt's I used to chase the dumpster divers off. These included a guy in a wheelchair who would lift himself into and out of the container. He lived underneath the concrete ramp behind the old Scuttlebutts and he was known to spit, scratch and bite.. I did that on the instruction of the business owners. That is what responsible business owners and employees do as opposed to complaining and blaming. Compassion for any of the three "wheelchair" guys I can think of is misplaced.
Diane Wolf July 31, 2012 at 05:14 AM
I have called the police on, and will continue to do so, the one very aggressive pan-handler in a motorized wheelchair - the one who traps people in their cars with his chair in his efforts to garner our sympathy and spare change. I've noticed he does it mostly to young women, he is very intimidating and I think his tactics are suspect. He will get no compassion or money from me.
Denise Kent July 31, 2012 at 10:32 AM
Ah, the aggressive panhandlers! In the past couple of years they've gotten more brazen, and that should be addressed. The one that traps people in their cars just tried that on us again last week, but got himself an earful. My female colleagues all know of him and prefer not to come to Salem, which is disappointing, because we love our city. Also, we had out-of-town guests (a young woman and her little brother), who were afraid to get out of their car, because a panhandler was looming over their window, demanding gas money for his car that he left on Roslyn Street. He was arrested a week later for attempting to steal a purse. The escalation and confrontations are a bad mix. This is a city/police problem, and I hope it gets attention.
john July 31, 2012 at 02:05 PM
It's simple,these are the" people" that represent the bad element in Salem,which is the biggest problem in Salem.These are the "people" everyone is commenting on and they have been around for years.They live here.
franken beans August 01, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Unfortunately the old adage "you reap what you sow" is at the core of many of the quality of life issues I see discussed in this thread. The current administration has been all too willing to accept the generous state and federal grants to fund the expansion of the Lifebridge footprint in the absence of any true economic policy for the City. Mayor Driscoll is all too comfortable taking whatever free money she can get her hands on without stopping to consider the downstream implications of her decisions. Grants for more beds at Lifebridge means a larger transient population in your City Mayor Driscoll. Are we really shocked when these quality of life issues (needles, public drunkeness, aggressive panhandling, assaults, lewd behavior, vandelism, theft, etc) arise given the path of least resistance our leadership has opted to pursue? By the way, I would argue the drain on public services (police, emt) probably exceeds the actual grant money Salem receives in exchange for warmly embracing the rest of the state's most marginalized residents. We are allowing the current administration to sell our City on the cheap.
Roxie August 02, 2012 at 07:35 PM
That guy who asked for gas money because "his car broke down" has hit me up three different times to "use my cell phone." The first time he did it, I was coming out of my house to walk my dog and he was talking to my neighbor. I though they knew each other because it seemed so conversational, although my dog started barking his head off. I walked away from them because my dog was still barking. Then when I looked up again, the panhandler was coming towards us, despite the fact that my dog was still barking like crazy at him. I didn't have a good feeling about him so I actually went back onto my front porch to go inside with my dog to get away from him, and he followed me to my house, talking to my dog despite the fact that my dog was clearly warning him by continually barking. It wasn't until I told him my dog bites that he backed off. This was near Roslyn St., but he also hit me up on Chestnut St (the second time). The third time was in front of Walgreens (where else), where I reminded him he had tried to pull the same stunt on Chestnut St. a week before. He acted like he was from out of town and didn't know where Chestnut St. was. I told he he sure did know where it was .A couple of weeks later I saw his picture in the police log that he had tried to steal a woman's purse. This guy concerns me because he's leaving the downtown area and venturing into residential neighborhoods, including mine.


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