HINSDALE, N.H. -- Residents expressed fear and frustration at a special meeting the town's police chief scheduled to address concerns there might be someone around town glaring into people's windows.
Chief Todd Faulkner set up the Thursday night meeting in the Hinsdale Middle/High School cafeteria and told the more than 80 citizens in attendance there have been eight official complaints since June 21 about a potential "peeping Tom," but only three of them were consistent with that particular crime. Faulkner said each case was investigated and only two share a possible link. Accompanied by Lt. David Eldridge and Sgt./School Resource Officer Wayne Kassotis, Faulkner tried to calm residents' nerves and told them the Hinsdale Police Department is doing everything possible to get to the bottom of whoever is creating their anxiety.
"This may not be a criminal. We have a significant mental health problem in the United States," he said, adding that a 61-year-old Chesterfield man named Ronald "Buddy" Cheever has been missing since he was last seen walking south on Winchester Road in Chesterfield on July 4. Faulkner said members of Cheever's family have stated the traits described in official complaints to the police match that of their missing relative.
Faulkner also told the crowd he did not approach the local media with the information he has because he did not want to unnecessarily alarm residents, as only two accounts are potentially connected. Faulkner doesn't have enough facts to give a description of a suspect because the information he has is unverified and some of it is conflicting.
Resident Beth Salg said she is worried about the reports she has read on Hinsdale Crime Watch (on Facebook), because some people have commented they plan to find and shoot whoever has supposedly been peeking into windows around town. She said she is terrified to have her children outside past a certain time out of fear that some misguided vigilante will harm them by accident.
"This is scarier than some guy looking in my window," she said.
The conversation then turned to citizens asking the police to address what they feel is a lack of follow-up on certain cases. One woman said her son and his friend were the two children who reported a suspicious man watching them play on July 2. She said no police officers have kept in touch with her about the incident. Faulkner explained the description his department received identified the suspicious male as a mental health patient and not a "peeping Tom." The woman said her children are afraid to go out in their own yard and wishes someone with the department could have come to her home to reassure her family members they are safe.
Allen Damon raised his hand and said he created the Hinsdale Crime Watch Facebook page. He told Faulkner that more than a year ago he had to force a man out of his home at gunpoint and never heard back from the responding officers, even though he had said he wanted to press charges. Damon said he just found out that man was arrested for criminal trespassing, but he was never notified of that fact. Faulkner apologized to Damon and said a Cheshire County victim/witness advocate should have contacted him.
Faulkner and Eldridge said the police department is still short one full-time officer and the case load is drastically large. Faulkner said each officer has a stack of files they are investigating.
A woman asked if pepper spray is legal in New Hampshire, and Faulkner said it can only be used in self-defense. He also cautioned the citizens present about taking the law into their own hands.
"The last thing we need is a George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident that happened down in Florida," he said in reference to the infamous case of Neighborhood Watch Group coordinator George Zimmerman fatally shooting teenager Trayvon Martin during a struggle after Zimmerman called the police to report someone acting "real suspicious" walking around in the rain in his gated community. Faulkner told people to stay vigilant and report anything they deem suspicious. He said all officers are tracked and monitored.
"If an officer is at Hinsdale Heights and then enters into a foot pursuit and people call and say, ‘There is a flashlight outside my home,'" Faulkner said, "the dispatcher can say that is a Hinsdale Police officer."
Resident Keith Owen urged all parents in the cafeteria to be careful in how they talk to their children about the issue at hand. Faulkner also added that he cannot rule out that the person causing concern throughout town is not simply a teenager playing a prank.
Before the meeting wrapped up, Faulkner mentioned the new on-body cameras his officers are sporting. He joked that citizens do not need to worry about the officers turning into RoboCops and said all officers must inform people of when they are being recorded.
A few people told Faulkner they understand his officers have a difficult job and appreciate their work to keep the town safe.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.