Police chief takes questions about new strategy
Police Chief Edward Mello spoke Tuesday to a crowd at the Narragansett Café, outlining his new community policing plan that he unveiled to the Town Council last month. The Jamestown Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.
According to Mello, law enforcement is a team effort between police officers and community members, and he hopes the new strategy will help develop that relationship.
Mello was quick to bring up the department’s recently announced citizens police academy. The class will give residents an opportunity to learn some of the things for which police officers are trained. Included is a trip to the gun range and a ride-along in a cruiser on police patrol. Classes begin the second week in April.
The department will once again offer a self-defense course for women. Two police officers will conduct the class, which last year attracted 15 people.
“You get to hit police officers,” Mello quipped. “It’s a free day.”
The ALICE program – alert, lock down, inform, counter, evacuate – is aimed at helping business owners know what to do when an aggressive person comes through their doors. Last year the department held a one-hour meeting with the staff of Simpatico Jamestown to discuss the practical approach of dealing with intoxicated customers.
“We’re here to keep everyone safe,” Mello said.
The chief has been a strong advocate for community liaisons since he took over in June 2011. As an example, he mentioned that Sgt. Keith Woodbine is the department’s liaison with the Jamestown Shores Association, and Officer Ron Jacobson deals with the local schools.
In one of the school programs, eighth-graders are taught life skills from a team that includes Jacobson and a teacher. There is also a course offered to teens who are on the cusp of getting their driver licenses. Two police officers instruct the students on their responsibilities as drivers.
Mello also wants the department to improve communications with victims of domestic violence by appointing a liaison officer to provide any assistance or guidance that a victim may need. Presently, victims are referred by police to the domestic violence women’s center in Newport.
“That’s unfortunate,” Mello said. “That’s not the way victims should be treated.”
Other liaison roles Mello hopes to create is an officer for crime prevention who can help residents victimized by credit card or identity theft, and a family liaison to comfort families who have unanswered questions about the death of a loved one from suicide or overdose.
Mello also sought to address misconceptions about the activities of the department. One issue he raised is the perception that the police department is overly aggressive when it comes to drunken driving. He pointed out that most of the arrests in town come as a result of complaints by others, and the average blood alcohol level of drivers charged is .15 – nearly twice the legal limit.
Most people don’t understand how much they can drink before they are legally intoxicated, Mello said, adding that a person has to booze excessively to get to the legal limit. The people who get in trouble have been drinking for much of the day, he said, or have binged aggressively for a short period of time.
Another misconception, according to Mello, is the department has made too many traffic stops lately. Mello pointed out that last week’s national Click it or Ticket campaign was underway, and that of all the stops – more than 100 – less than 10 percent of drivers were ticketed.
The department also hopes to create a leadership council. Mello wants to attract 10 or 12 local residents to sit on the panel and enter into a dialog with the police officers. The department would have an opportunity to share news about programs like community policing and liaison duties, and address misperceptions about the department. The council members would then take the information into the community.
In another effort to get the word out, Mello has appointed Sgt. Karen Catlow to handle public relations for the department. While programs like the prescription drop box and free drug-testing kits have been mentioned in the Press, he said it’s important to revisit the programs so the entire community learns about them. Mello said the department website, which was redone a couple of years ago, is kept as fresh as possible. It now includes a pamphlet that lets motorists know what they can expect when they are pulled over.
Recently the issue of staffing had been raised, and Mello was asked to explain the current level. He said Jamestown has 14 sworn police officers and 3.5 dispatchers. There are four shifts, each with two officers, and one dispatcher. That does not take into account vacation and sick days.
Earlier in the discussion, Mello described a pair of incidents recently where officers had to deal with emotionally disturbed people. While most people don’t hear about these cases, they occur on a regular basis, he said. Based on these types of incidents, Mello doesn’t feel comfortable with only one officer on duty during a shift.
A question was raised regarding safety on the Newport Bridge. Mello was asked if cameras could be used to monitor speeds on the bridge, and he answered they could. He acknowledged pending legislation that is seeking to address safety on the bridge.
This is the second time Mello has been invited by the chamber to talk at one of its breakfast meetings. He says he enjoys the conversation.
“I’m always very positive about the chamber because they have similar challenges to those that we do, conveying their message to the community about the good they are trying to do” Mello said after the meeting. “They’re always supportive, always thoughtful in their decision-making process, so it’s a good group to talk to.”