2012-05-17 / Editorial

We must make peace

VIEWPOINT
BY NICK ROACH

It’s time for the Police Department to end the war with the residents of Jamestown. We have endured it for too long.

I have lived here most of my life. I own a business in town. My children grew up here, and my grandchildren are in school here. I have watched this town evolve into the 21st century.

I am happy to say that although the town has progressed, we have managed to preserve one important element of our makeup – our personality. We are still the same rural, live and let-live community that was founded more than two centuries ago. Unfortunately, our Police Department has put that lifestyle in jeopardy.

I fondly remember the days when it was comforting to see the police around town. When they were off duty, we would see them in the supermarket, at the hardware store, and in church. They were members of the PTA, Rotary Club, and other civic organizations. In or out of uniform we liked their presence.

The police did a good job because they had a vested interest in the community. They lived here.

If we are going to negotiate an end to this war, it is important that the police understand what we want and don’t want from our Police Department.

We don’t want a department with an enforcement mindset. We want a department that serves and protects.

We are not a city like Providence, Newport or Cranston. We are different. We have a distinct, rural personality.

Occasionally, we stop our cars on the wrong side of the street and talk to neighbors. Nobody gets upset. It wasn’t that long ago that if a police officer saw an unleashed dog walking down the street, he would return it to its home. Why? Because he knew both the dog and its owner. The owner wasn’t treated as if he were irresponsible, or the dog as if it were a neglected stray.

Jamestown does not have a huge crime problem. It doesn’t need a heavy-handed police force.

It disturbed me to read in the March 22 issue of this newspaper a quote from Sgt. Karen Catlow that said: “We don’t need quotas here. Our officers are motivated enough.”

This was followed by officer Ted Hebert, who said this about his job when talking about seat-belt enforcement: “It can be stressful because you want to bring violations back to the station.”

Both of those statements tell me that the Police Department believes their primary function is to write tickets.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser and Police Chief Ed Mello were quick to explain that the state makes it mandatory for municipalities to use federal grant money to fund extra officers needed to enforce seatbelt, speeding and DUI details.

If we put extra officers on duty for those tasks, does it mean that they “must” write tickets and charge people the exorbitant sum of $85 for not buckling up? According to Hebert, only one person out of 300 cars that passed him by wasn’t buckled up. Hebert said he “had to” slap him with an $85 fine. “Had to” are very strong words.

That ticket took half a week’s worth of groceries off a family’s table. Would Hebert have been fired if he told the guy he’d be fined $85 if he caught him again without his seatbelt buckled? I don’t think so.

We don’t want a department that participates in grant programs. We’ll pay for our police officers without state grants.

The people on our police force do not live here and are not part of the community. Presently, they come onto the island to work their shifts, write tickets and leave.

We want a police force that is part of the community. We want them to encourage us to wear seatbelts and drive within the speed limits. We do not want to be motivated by fear. We are tired of being intimidated. We want police officers that we know and like. And we want them to like us.

We have no desire to outsource our Police Department to another town where we have no voice. The cost would be about the same anyway.

Most Jamestown residents are hard working, law-abiding citizens. We want a Police Department that respects that.

I have every confidence that the town will be happy to support a Police Department that gives us the services we need, the way we want them.

Our relationship with the Police Department has been out of control for the last decade. This is not a recent event. We should provide a bright future for our police offi- cers and give them the job security they desire and deserve. In return, they should give us the kind of department that worked so well in the distant past.

Nick Roach is the owner of The Chemical Company located on Narragansett Avenue.

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