Unusually Busy May For Fitzgerald, Who Predicts More Summer Challenges
May started quietly enough for the Manchester Police Department, but it quickly became very eventful and before it ended the department had tackled two major incidents, a stabbing at Masconomo Park and a burglary and weapons charge of a local man. Before Memorial Day, we sat down with Manchester Police Chief Todd Fitzgerald, a veteran of more than 30 years with the department, to talk about what happened, whether these incidents mark an uptick in crime locally, and what he’s expecting for this summer as the public transitions to post-COVID daily life.
First Up, One Stabbing, And Two Ghost Guns
It began as an unsettling piece of news. Early in the evening of Sunday, May 10, Mother’s Day, a 27-year-old Revere man, bleeding profusely, approached a resident on North Street and asked to use his cell phone to call his wife. He said he was attacked in a white Suzuki SUV and was able to escape from the moving car on School Street. He didn’t know what town he was in. The man called his wife, returned the phone, and asked the North Street man not to contact the police. The North Street man immediately called the police.
In the coming days, three people—two Revere brothers, Raymond Joel Vega-Castro, 23 and Jayson Vega-Castro, 21 and Deborah Isaac, 54 of Beverly—would be located, arrested and charged by Manchester Police with armed assault with intent to murder, mayhem, kidnapping, and assault and battery to collect a loan or debt.
Fitzgerald said the trio had lured the man up from Revere to collect a debt. The victim was stabbed in the torso and head. The injuries weren’t life-threatening, and he was treated at Beverly Hospital and is now cooperating with police. When the SUV was recovered in Chelsea, it still had blood spatter on the passenger door.
The case is ongoing. Both brothers are still in custody awaiting a court hearing to assess their dangerousness. Isaac is also in custody. All three, said Fitzgerald, are known to police. Manchester Police has been coordinating with Lynn, Revere and Chelsea police. From the investigation so far, Fitzgerald said, it’s clear the victim knew his assailants and there is no connection to Manchester. In the end, Fitzgerald said, Manchester seems to have been simply a convenient place for them.
“Manchester is right off the highway, and right between cities of Beverly and Gloucester,” he said. “It’s easy. Isaac lives in Beverly, so she’s likely familiar with the area and it was an easy place to meet. That’s the unfortunate truth.”
The following week after the incident, another arrest for another crime. This one, said Fitzgerald, was local. A 34-year-old resident of Elm Street broke into a home on Gales Point Road early on May 16 and allegedly stole several electronics items. When Manchester police went to his home on Elm Street, they found two 9mm handguns, both with blank serial numbers, unsecured and in plain sight. They also found several rounds of ammunition, magazines and firearms parts. These were also seized, and the man was charged.
Fitzgerald said the man was cooperative, and in the end it was the firearms that was a big concern and he said locating and seizing the unregistered firearms was critical.
But, said Fitzgerald, the two cases are coincidental and do not indicate anything new for residents to be concerned about for safety or local crime. Crime, he said, is low and it continues to be the case in Manchester and Essex.
Up Now: Police Reform Legislation’s Local Impact
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald has been working hard on integrating the big operational impacts from the landmark Massachusetts Police Reform Bill passed last year on Beacon Hill and signed by Gov. Charlie Banker on December 31.
The law—adopted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that followed all over the world—establishes new requirements for police training and creates a civilian-controlled, Peace Officer Standards Commission that will have power to investigate misconduct, with subpoena power.
Fitzgerald, who worked with local student organizers of BLM demonstrations in Manchester last year, said the reforms are a good idea for police departments. On one hand, Manchester is already in compliance with the commission’s standards by being among the 30 percent of police departments in Massachusetts that are accredited. (For instance, state accredited departments like Manchester had already banned choke holds in training, long before the holds were listed this year under the new reforms).
But, said Fitzgerald, coastal towns like Manchester are challenged with an unanticipated consequence of the Police Reform legislation. The required 200 hours of training and certification bar is designed for full time officers, but it applies to all officers, including reservists who are heavily used by towns with seasonal spikes in residents and visitors. That puts towns like Manchester, said Fitzgerald, in a tough spot. Manchester has 13 full time officers in the department. In the summertime, the department brings on 12 reservists to handle the expanded needs of the busy season. Training the reservists will cost $50,000, exclusive of out-of-pocket expenses such as travel, equipment and ammunition.
“It’s a problem,” said Fitzgerald. He points to the island of Martha’s Vineyard, which has a more pronounced challenge. There, the seven-officer police department swells to more than 35 in the summer using reservists.
Fitzgerald submitted a training budget to the BOS and is coordinating with Essex Police Chief Paul Francis and other coastal towns to determine what, if anything, might be done to alleviate the financial pressure.
Heading Into Summer
Right now, Fitzgerald’s attention is turning to the summer season as the public emerges from COVID restrictions. He said he’s expecting an uptick in policing related to predictable things that come from more people being out and about, doing more things, including celebrating. “That’s all to be expected,” he said. “And it’s all going to be fine.”