Community policing homeless areas of Concord in search of answers more than criminals 

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  • Laura Fortin talks with Concord police officers Carl Notarangeli (center) and Matthew Lankhorst to find out if she had any outstanding warrants as the two were looking for homeless encampments along the train tracks in back of Market Basket on Storrs Street in Concord on Sunday, April 28, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Laura Fortin waits while Concord police officers Carl Notarangeli (right) and Matthew Lankhorst check with superiors along the train tracks in back of Market Basket on Storrs Street in Concord on Sunday.

  • Two people walk along the tracks in back of Storrs Street from a homeless encampment as they head to the Friendly Kitchen on Sunday, April 28, 2019 GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord police officers Carl Notarangeli (left) and Matthew Lankhorst on patrol along the train tracks behind Storrs Street in Concord on Sunday, April 28, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord police officers Carl Notarangeli (left) and Matthew Lankhorst on patrol looking for homless encampments off of Pembroke Road off of the Heights in Concord on Sunday, April 28, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord police officer Carl Notarangeli steps out of an empty tent back off of Pembroke Road off the Heights in Concord as he and his partner look for homeless encampments on Sunday, April 28, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord police officers Carl Notarangeli (right) and Matthew Lankhorst look through an abandoned homeless encampment off Fort Eddy Road near the Merrimack River on Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Some of the ornaments attached to an abandoned homeless encampment off of Fort Eddy Road in Concord on Sunday, April 28, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/29/2019 5:30:22 PM

Concord police officer Matthew Lankhorst needed confirmation.

Sure, he wanted to trust the homeless woman walking along the railroad tracks, behind the shuttered liquor store, near the Storrs Street Market Basket. So did Carl Notarangeli, Lankhorst’s partner, the two cops riding their bicycles during a check of known, well-hidden homeless areas.

But, both officers knew, homeless people are often desperate, willing to lie to authorities to avoid jail time or a summons to appear in court. “I’m not camping here,” they’ll tell the cops. “I’m not wanted by the police,” they’ll insist.

In this case, the homeless woman was telling the truth. She said she was clean, and she was.

“Laura, you’re okay,” Lankhorst said. “No warrants.”

“I could have told you that,” said Laura Fortin, traveling with two companions, moving south along the tracks.

It was Sunday. Lankhorst  and Notarangeli, while wearing their bike helmets, wore other hats as well. They were ambassadors of sorts, building bridges with this misunderstood community, showing compassion, understanding, patience.

They were legal representatives, explaining to the homeless that a summons follows a warning, that a property owner’s complaint must be respected, that an appearance before a judge is not to be taken lightly.

They were intelligence gatherers, preparing their colleagues and themselves for any future sweeps, filing reports, documenting who’s gotten a warning, who’s unruly, painting a picture of what these unseen areas are like once you cross a boundary. Once you move from the normal to the hidden, a world that people often don’t see and don’t want to see comes into view.

Lankhorst and Notarangeli have lots of answers and advice, until the inevitable question surfaces, the one they hear all the time while enforcing the law.

“They keep asking, ‘Where do we go?’ ” Lankhorst said. “We have no answers.”

Who does? Homeless people keep camping, police keep warning, local organizations keep lobbying for new, innovative plans, and people keep complaining, about strangers moving into the woods behind their homes, about loud voices, about fighting, about trash left behind.

These cops know this is a thankless job. They know how some view them. They know the homeless sometimes want to portray the police as heartless, essentially using their pitchforks to drive people away.

Lankhorst and Notarangeli, however, do everything possible to shed that unjustified image. And it didn’t feel like they were staging a public-relations charade for the local press after agreeing to let us tag along.

They seemed to care. And despite the fact that some deception did emerge, no one was hauled away in cuffs on Sunday. No one got physical with the cops.

“A lot of people are down on their luck,” Lankhorst said. “Or they are addicted to something. They need help. They don’t need to spend time in jail.”

Lankhorst opened this annual season of monitoring the homeless two weeks ago on bicycle patrol. The next weekend’s assignment was canceled due to rain. He teamed with Notarangeli for this most recent patrol.

Lankhorst, 38, once a reservist in the 94th Military Police Company, served in Iraq 16 years ago, at the start of the war. He said some of his buddies took their lives upon returning home, and he himself had trouble adjusting, sometimes waking up at night and wondering what his role would be like once he had returned to civilian life.

He used to wear a ponytail, doing undercover work. He had tattoos on each calf, a tribute to our military that read “Some gave all.” and “All gave some,” lettering exposed because Lankhorst chose to wear shorts. That decision would haunt him later, on The Heights, where thorny bushes showed no mercy.

Notarangeli is 54 but could pass for his 40s. He seemed comfortable letting his partner do most of the talking, but he was no less affable. His career in law enforcement included time as a school resource officer. He said he loved working with kids.

Now, this. A different assignment. A new team. A gray area.

Lankhorst knew Fortin’s first name from the previous sweep. She’s from Berlin and moved to Concord five years ago. She wore a stud on the left side of her nose. She carried an umbrella, wore a knapsack, had a cigarette lighter attached to her belt and a knife, unseen, for protection.

“There have been fights,” Fortin told me. “Some have gotten aggressive with me, pushing and shoving. Then I got the knife.”

Her traveling companions – a man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a Notre Dame Fighting Irish hat, a woman using a cane and carrying an iced coffee – declined to give their names.

All three were homeless. The railroad company Pan American, owners of the tracks and nearby land, had called police to complain that homeless people were on their property. These three did not have overnight gear, making their story that they were not camping more believable.

Walking along the railroad is fine. Camping is not.

“If they’re just walking on the tracks we won’t arrest them,” Lankhorst said. “We won’t bother them unless a property owner complains.” 

Notarangeli succinctly explained their feelings, telling me, “You get to know them and hear their stories. You wonder if you had that same upbringing, what would you end up being like? What would your life end up looking like?”

Soon, Sgt. Timothy King drove into the parking lot in his police cruiser. He handed Lankhorst and Notarangeli a map showing town, state and private property boundaries, trouble spots where complaints had come in about illegal campsites.

Then they got a call about someone bringing groceries into the woods on Pembroke Road, behind a real estate company. A homeless person, perhaps?

“Hello, Concord PD, anyone home?” Notarangeli said outside a huge tent, a few hundred yards from the road.

No answer. No one home. A  Pepsi bottle, a bed, toothpaste and food told the officers this was an active camp; someone most likely would be returning, calling it home.

From there, a deeper walk into the woods brought us to an area with an imaginary line that separated city property from Hodges Development Corporation property. Legally speaking, neither label – private or city property – is open to homeless camping.

Here’s where the tattoos on Lankhorst’s calves got pricked again and again by low-lying, unforgiving bushes.

“Oh God,” he said, “I wished I’d worn long pants.”

 We found an inactive camp, one which had been abandoned, with its pile of garbage and sleeping bags.

“It could have been someone who walked to the store on a nice day,” Notarangeli speculated, referring to the initial call that led us to the area. “Maybe someone was carrying groceries on the way home.”

Maybe. 

The final step brought us to another site, near New Hampshire Technical Institute, visible near the exit off of Route 393. The property belongs to Unitil, which asked police to clear it. Lankhorst had given warnings to the people living there two weeks earlier. Apparently, they had listened, not willing to take the chance of receiving a summons and a court date.

An open gate led us to the site, big enough to be called a small community, with trash everywhere, dolls’ heads, old food, rusted barbecues, chocolate syrup containers, crock pots, bicycles and shopping carts filled with garbage and blankets, shopping carts from the Burlington Coat Factory, T.J. Maxx, Shaw’s, Hannaford, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

“There’s another big one behind Lowe’s, but Lowe’s hasn’t complained, Lankhorst said. “We could ask if they needed help, but why stir up a bee’s nest?”

They made it clear that stirring up trouble was not their mission, that adding misery and hardship to those with no place to go, involved in an issue with no easy solutions, was a bandage, not a cure.

“No arrests today,” Lankhorst said. “That makes it a good day.”

He and Notarangeli then rode off, under the 393 overpass, as rain began to fall.




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