Police Chief Edward Mello, who has been on the job in Jamestown since September, met with local residents at the Jamestown Philomeniann Library on Nov. 15 to introduce himself and take questions from the audience. The Taxpayers Association of Jamestown hosted the event.
Mello, knowing his audience, began his presentation by speaking about the annual budget for the Jamestown Police Department. He assured the audience that the budget is reasonable, and currently as “flat as it can be.” He went on to say that he has always been cautious about spending tax dollars. This year’s budget for the police department is $1.5 million.
Next he talked about his personal history, including his education at Roger Williams University, where he got his bachelor’s degree in administration of criminal justice, and Boston University, where he earned his master’s degree. He also expressed pride in being chosen to attend an 11-week management course at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.
Mello has been married for three years, and has a son that is six months old. He reflected on the challenges of balancing his home life and his career. He also said that he is looking for a home in Jamestown for his family.
A more detailed look at the police department staffing structure and its relationship to the budget followed. There are presently 12 sworn officers in the department, with two vacancies. There are also four full-time civilians and two part-time civilians. The sworn offi cers, including a lieutenant and nine sergeants, work 36 shifts in a six-day cycle during any given week.
Mello expressed the concern that under the current agreement only scheduled days off are covered. If an officer takes vacation days, or is sent to a training course, the department must pay overtime to cover that officer’s shift. One solution that Mello has come up with is instead of sending multiple officers to training, he will send one officer who will then be able to come back to Jamestown and train the rest of the department.
One common theme that Mello repeated frequently during the evening was that while he is impressed with the performance of his department, there is always room for improvement. Toward this end, he has met with each offi cer individually to discuss the officer’s personal goals and objectives, as well as those of the department.
The number one complaint that the department is called on to handle in Jamestown is traffic related. Jamestown police officers are currently making approximately 2,500 traffic stops in a calendar year. Only 14 percent of these stops result in citations and that is a rate that Mello feels can be increased without becoming heavy handed.
Traffic stops serve two functions according to Mello. One is to change driving behavior. The other is that the traffic stop provides the most valuable tool for officers to know who is in the community. To emphasize this point, Mello pointed out that most crimes are committed by people who drive to and from the scene.
The golden rule that Mello imparts to his officers is that they should treat people with the same respect and dignity that they would expect their own families to receive from police officers in another community.
Some of the issues that Mello is currently addressing includes making sure that correct signage is in place, and that posted speed limits are appropriate. He is also planning a community liaison program in which he will assign one police officer to interface with each of the island’s organizations. He wants to improve communication and transparency between the department and the public, and toward that end the department’s website will be improved. Mello also wants to get officers back on bikes for patrols, particularly in the village.
Mello is concerned with the increase in the number of police officers who have been injured and killed by acts of violence in recent years. He said that society is changing, and that there is less respect for government, with the police being the most “evident face of government.” He stressed the importance of valuing the asset that each officer represents, and the importance of investing in training, education and equipment.
A question-and-answer session followed. Mello addressed a question about the role of the Rhode Island State Police in local police matters. He said that he already regards the state police as a secondary resource for policing the island, and said that he would call them in for a homicide investigation or criminally fatal accident. However, he said he does not support use of the state police as a primary resource.
Another question was about whether the locked door in the vestibule at the police department building presents Jamestown in the best light. Mello responded that the infrastructure of the building is being improved using grant money, and that the door will no longer be locked during normal business hours.
Mello was asked about the department’s role in policing Route 138. He responded that while the state road is not a priority as far as he’s concerned, it cannot be ignored. He added that the secondary state roads on the island are the responsibility of his department, as are the state parks. When Jamestown officers are assigned to construction projects on the bridge, it is a revenue source for the town.
There was a question about the number of arrest reports that appear in the Jamestown Press and whether those reports represent all of the arrests made. Mello acknowledged that they do not, and promised increased transparency in that regard.
In response to a question about the harbormaster’s office, Mello said that he remains unsure as to whether he will be called upon to supervise the harbormaster, but he suspects that it will be his responsibility.
A number of animal-related questions were asked. Mello replied that road kill pickup is handled by a combination of the Department of Public Works, the Department of Environmental Management, and the Jamestown Police Department. He added that while there is currently a temporary pound for strays at the police department, DPW will build external kennels at the building.
The chief was asked whether Jamestown officers carry Tasers. He replied that they do, and explained their use as an alternative to deadly force. Officers are also equipped with pepper spray.
A member of Jamestown Emergency Services asked Mello if more uniformity in dispatch can be expected, and the chief ensured her that it could.
After the meeting, Mello commented on the importance of this type of gathering. “Community relations have to be two ways, and this is part of it,” he said. “We’re doing our part to get out and talk to the community so they understand the challenges we have, the obligations and the responsibilities we have. I need to communicate to them and they have the same responsibility to be supportive of the department as well.”
Town Council President Michael Schnack attended the event, and commented on it afterwards. “I thought it was great to have this event, with the chief getting right in front of the people and improving community relations,” Schnack said.
“We’re really interested in helping the community, working with the community to keep our costs under control, but still getting the best bang for our dollar,” said Gary Girard of the taxpayers association. “We’re really interested in working with the police. We realize that they are a great asset to the community and we wanted to meet the new chief and for him to have an opportunity to talk with us. We look forward to working with him.”