MIDDLEBOROUGH — First came the vandals who swiped as many as 20 batteries from the engines of the town’s fleet of school buses in January.
Then, a late-February rampage through the Lane Street, Warren Avenue, and West Avenue neighborhood left spray-painted swastikas and obscenities on at least four houses and nine or 10 cars.
And earlier this summer, vandals smashed more than 30 of 96 hanging flower pots on street lights around the downtown area, flowers placed as part of a beautification effort started more than six years ago.
With a new police chief about to be named, residents and officials say community policing should be tops on that leader’s list.
Many residents were frustrated and angry this winter following the first two vandalism sprees, and South Main Street resident Tracy Marzelli took the lead to see what it would take to organize a downtown neighborhood crime watch.
Marzelli worked for months with former police chief Bruce Gates comparing plans from other communities. Results of a widely distributed Facebook survey showed residents were willing to help, she said. So were scores of others, judging from their comments on a townwide Facebook page called Middleborough Helping Middleborough.
So Marzelli scheduled a meeting at the town library to gather forces and kick things off. And then, she said, she stood in the room dumbfounded on the appointed night when no one showed up.
To say it was a disappointment didn’t come close, said Marzelli, whose home is also near the center of town where the flower-pot destruction occurred. After at least three incidents over two weeks around July 4, more than three dozen pots had been splintered by billy clubs or baseball bats, she said.
“I can’t do it alone,’’ Marzelli said in an interview. “People have to be willing to help me.”
All eyes now are focused on the five members of the Board of Selectmen, who plan to announce their pick for a replacement for Gates at a Sept. 8 meeting.
Board chairman Allin Frawley said that community policing is at the top of the list of requirements for the new chief and that he is confident the new leader will make it a priority.
Gates, who did not return several requests for comment for this story, retired earlier this month.
Four members of the Police Department are vying for the chief’s job: Lieutenant Peter Andrade, the department’s senior officer; Lieutenant Robert Ferreira, internal affairs officer and the department’s firearms licensing officer; Lieutenant Joseph Perkins, an evening shift commander who also serves as head of the detectives division; and Officer Angelo Lapanna, a Special Forces soldier in the military who is also a regional SWAT team member.
In interviews with selectmen that were televised last week, all four candidates said community policing and getting to know residents are key to their plans.
That’s good news to Mimi Duphily, a former selectwoman and south Middleborough resident who has almost singlehandedly beautified the downtown area for the past six years, growing the geraniums and other flowers that cascade from nearly 100 pots hanging from ornate brackets on street lamp poles.
The project was launched by the late Anna Nalevanko, former director of the town’s Office of Economic and Community Development. Duphily said she expanded the program to include planters on the railing in front of the former Eastern Bank Building and other containers on Thatcher’s Row.
But during a two-week period this summer, vandals wreaked havoc on her work. The ruined remains of pots were tossed into the street and found as far away as the park benches in front of Town Hall.
There were no witnesses and few clues, and Duphily said she didn’t get much of a response when she initially reached out to police. She said one suggestion she received from the former chief was to raise the brackets higher on the poles so youngsters couldn’t reach them. But Duphily said if she did that she wouldn’t be able to reach the plants, either.
As it is, Duphily, who drives a modified golf cart along the sidewalk laden with gallons of water, has to use a long wand for watering. Following the most recent vandalism incident, she said she wasn’t sure of the exact number of pots she had to replace.
“I lost count at 30,’’ she said.
Outgoing Town Manager Charles Cristello, who retires in October, said solutions should take priority in picking the new police chief. “The new chief needs to be committed to community policing, if you want my opinion,’’ he said.
Leilani Dalpe, vice chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said various tactics can be used to prevent similar senseless destruction, including youth outreach.
“We will stay on top of it,’’ she said. What would also help to discourage vandals is to direct more activity to the downtown area at night, she said.
Dalpe said efforts to transform the old St. Luke’s Hospital on Oak Street — a notorious hangout for drug users and others — to a well-lit High Point Treatment Center will help. As will filling the vacancy in the town-owned former Eastern Bank Building at the Four Corners, she said.
“We need to have lights on and people around,’’ she said.
Duphily said help for the downtown flower pots project, which is funded by donations, can be sent in care of the Office of Economic and Community Development, 20 Center St., Middleborough, MA 02346.Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton