Meriden residents concerned about gang violence, alleged lack of police transparency

MERIDEN - On Wednesday night, Meriden residents spoke out about concerns over gang violence and an alleged lack of police transparency. Their comments to FOX 61 come on the heels of comments made at a packed city council meeting on Tuesday night.

"Some of us are concerned that we are in danger," said Meriden mom Melissa Hendricks, who also attended Tuesday's meeting.

Hendricks worries about raising her two young children in a city where gang violence is a problem. She also believes police are not transparent.

"We need to know what's going on in our town, who our suspects are, what we can do as a community to keep our streets safe," said Hendricks.

Meriden resident Chris Dingwell was also at Tuesday's meeting and has been outspoken about his criticism of the department.

"I know some stuff they can't release if it's ongoing, but people shouldn't find out about a murder on Facebook," said Dingwell, who runs the 'Meriden Talks' Facebook page.

Both Dingwell and Hendricks spoke about an August murder on Willow Street as a prime example of a lack of transparency, saying the police department took nine days to notify the public.

"If the public doesn't know that there's crime going on, they could walk into anything and accidentally get shot," said Dingwell.

Meriden Police Sergeant John Mennone acknowledges the department could have done better.

"We didn't want to jeopardize that investigation," said Mennone. "Yes, could we have probably released it within a 3 or 4, 5-day period? Yes."

Mennone is adamant that transparency is not a problem for the department.

"We are more than willing and open to speak to anybody and let them know as much as we possibly can, as long as it doesn't affect our investigation," said Mennone.

Mennone said Meriden's Neighborhood Initiative Division hosts multiple community meetings each month, and posts its officers' email addresses and phone numbers online, along with department call logs.

"We could not be more available to the general public," said Mennone.

Speaking to FOX 61 by phone, Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati said he understands residents' frustrations, but said the police department is doing good work. Mayor Scarpati added that 80 percent of those behind city shootings in 2016 have been arrested.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced the arrest of a 20-year-old Meriden man, charged with illegal gun possession. The arrest stems from a police investigation into gang-related violence.

Hendricks said more is needed. She wants to see a city meeting with the mayor, police chief and city council.

"The citizens of this town need to be heard," said Hendricks. "We need to get our concerns out there. The violence needs to stop."

Hendricks and several others say they are now trying to oust Police Chief Jeffrey Cossette.

The police department said it has received a federal grant of $25,000 for foot patrols in targeted neighborhoods throughout the city.