Chester’s state of emergency helped, but not enough for some

Chester, a downtrodden city of 38,000 residents, drew national attention last year when a state of emergency was declared to stem a rash of murders. More than six months later, though, residents say not much has changed.

On June 19, 2010­­, Mayor Wendell Butler imposed a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, required permits for more than three people to assemble and canceled all days off for members of the police department. The move followed eight days in which there were four homicides, including a 2-year-old boy shot while his parents were bringing him inside their home.

During the 35-day lockdown, there were two homicides, but the year total still reached 24, the most since 2007. Though there were no murders last month, community activist Nicole Cogdell, who heads a group called Women of Strength, said residents temporarily rallied, but much more needs to be done.

“To have dialogue is one thing, but to bring about action and have a comprehensive plan is another thing,” she said. “Six months later, we’re still not there yet.”

The mayor acknowledged the state of emergency was no magic bullet, but “it served its purpose for the time it was in effect.” About 100 guns were confiscated while several felons were arrested. “It did give us an opportunity to review crime strategies and, for the safety and well-being of citizens, it worked out well,” Butler said.

Butler and new police chief Darren Alston cited increased cooperation between residents and police as another positive. “I know they’re fed up with crime,” Butler said, “but unfortunately we can’t be everywhere.”

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