by Terry Rogers
On Sunday, November 28, Delaware 105.9 posted a recording on social media of Touch of Italy owner, Bob Ciprietti, claiming that a new restaurant he planned for the former M&T Bank in downtown Milford was delayed due to crime in the downtown area. Ciprietti claimed that his employees were subjected to “drug deals, crack hookers, people defecating all over this place.” Ciprietti also mentioned an overdose in his parking lot.
“We don’t have enough police officers in Milford,” Ciprietti said in response to a caller who asked why the restaurant in Milford was not open. “What I thought was the police chief is not doing a good job. So, I sat down and talked with him and guess what, he’s doing a great job.” Ciprietti went on to explain that Milford had grown significantly over the past few decades but that the police force had not grown. He mentioned that Mayor Archie Campbell recently pushed for five new officers which were currently being trained, but that it was not enough.
Ciprietti’s comments met with significant backlash on social media with many residents suggesting that this was just the latest excuse for the restaurant not being open. Business owners downtown commented that they had seen none of the crime mentioned by Ciprietti and that the police did an amazing job of patrolling the downtown area. Chief Kenneth Brown supported the comments by residents and business owners.
“Back in May or June, right after Archie took office, the two of us went to lunch with Bob,” Chief Brown said. “He complained about some of these things happening while we were at lunch and I told him that we don’t see it. That we had not seen any of the issues he claimed were happening. I told him then that if he saw these things, he needed to call us. At this time, we have no documented evidence that he has ever called any of these things into the police station.”
After the recording was released, Chief Brown reviewed call reports related to the building address. He found only seven incidents in the past year linked to the address of the former bank building. One incident was related to an incident that actually occurred at Park Place between two individuals. One of the individuals involved, flagged down an officer at the corner in front of the bank which is why the incident is logged at that address. Another incident involved a school bus that pulled into the parking lot due to an altercation on the bus. There was a call from a man who lived across the street who reported children playing in his parked car in the parking lot and another was a vehicle that needed to be moved for work done on the parking lot.
“The one that he is claiming is an overdose actually was not an overdose at all,” Chief Brown explained. “A woman was being driven home from a medical procedure by her boyfriend. She had an adverse reaction to the anesthesia or something and passed out. He pulled into the parking lot and called an ambulance. Our guys responded as they always do for such calls, but this was not an overdose at all. The only other call was about a woman sitting on the curb of the parking lot. We do believe this may have been called in by Touch of Italy employees, although we have no proof. The woman’s son lived across the street. She arrived early to stay with him before he arrived home from work and she was sitting on the curb to wait for him.”
Jenn Rowan and Ben Jones of Lifecycle, which is located just a few blocks from the Touch of Italy location, immediately refuted Ciprietti’s comments.
“You have made a grave mistake in denigrating Milford,” they posted on the Lifecycle Facebook page. “We own Lifecycle which is a block away from your future restaurant. During cycling season, we ride by your property daily on bicycles. Several times a week, we lead group bicycle rides of 10 to 50 people by your property in downtown Milford. Lifecycle group rides deliberately ride by your property several times a week during daylight and after dark. WE know the evidence based research that states a property that sits neglected is at risk for bring host to unsavory activity.” Lifecycle then extended an invitation for Ciprietti to patronize downtown Milford events including the Dessert Tour and Holiday Stroll, personally offering to escort him via bicycle or pedicab.
Philip Strassle commented that he loves Touch of Italy but after Ciprietti’s comments, it would take significant goodwill to win him back as a customer. Michael Robertson stated that his mother spent 50 years working in the bank building and couldn’t tell one instance that occurred similar to Ciprietti’s allegations. Chief Brown said that he initially planned to issue a statement refuting Ciprietti’s claims but after reading the posts on social media realized that residents and business owners had done it for him.
“There is a perception that there is crime downtown,” Chief Brown said. “There really is not. Burglaries are down 42 percent and a lot of that is due to our patrols in the downtown area. We are simply not seeing the issues Bob is claiming. We are not having rapes, assaults and robberies of people as they walk through the park. Any crimes we do get reported are one bad guy on another, not innocent people being attacked. The serious crimes a lot of people worry about in downtown areas are simply not happening here. During our luncheon, I told Bob that what causes these things to happen is vacant buildings. Open your restaurant and if you are having problems, they will go away. The more good things you have going on in an area, the less crime there will be.”
Downtown Milford, Inc. Board of Directors also released a statement in response to Ciprietti’s comments, which, in part, agrees with Chief Brown. “[Ciprietti] currently owns a cornerstone in our Downtown District and the longer it goes undeveloped, the more he welcomes the unwanted behavior he so graphically describes,” the statement reads. “At this point, the community has continued to develop as Mr. Ciprietti’s building sits vacant. In the time he’s owned the building in Milford, we’ve opened or expanded nearly 20 new businesses in Downtown. So, Mr. Ciprietti, while we would love to see you revitalize the old bank building into a community-driven restaurant, we want to be clear that our community is comprehensively booming with or without your business.”
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