Departments report busy, if not unusual, summer
The heads of several town departments — Police, Harbors, and the Recreation Department — gave their perspectives to the Town Council on the summer of 2018 .
While the summer passed pleasantly, successfully, and safely, it was not the kind of blockbuster the island has seen in recent years.
Members of the Town Council and Town Manager Ed Roberge said the quarterly reports from town departments will be used as roadmaps for how the town would prepare for the summer of 2019.
New Shoreham Police Chief Vin Carlone, who was present at the meeting on Monday, Nov. 5, presented reports on the successes and challenges of the department.
In Carlone’s report, he compared the staffing on Block Island to that of Little Compton. “As a comparison, the town of Little Compton has one bar and 10 fulltime police officers. It also has mutual aid from other police departments,” he wrote. “We would need at least this many fulltime officers without the reserve program, especially with no mutual aid from bordering cities, and it is getting harder and harder to staff.”
For Carlone, drug use on the island was an area that has had both successes and challenges. “We are fortunate to have the least amount of serious drug issues in South County and certainly the northern part of the state. Sometimes in other communities there are dozens of Narcan saves from heroin overdoses per week,” wrote Carlone.
A seasonal worker died of a heroin overdose this past summer. Carlone said this incident fits a pattern on the island, where the person “or one of his associates went off the island and acquired a small amount of the material and did it in the privacy of his room. This seems to be the pattern in all our cases, which number a few over the past several years.”
While the police department has asked people to reach out to them if they know someone is involved in drugs, Carlone wrote “the problem is that most people don’t talk to us. As in the case of the summer worker who died, if his friends or family had contacted us or told us, we could maybe have helped him…”
He said that the culture of drinking, public fights, domestic assaults and other criminal issues had been dramatically reduced in the past 14 years.
In a later meeting with The Block Island Times, Carlone reported there was one serious issue involving alcohol this summer. At around midnight on Sept. 4, 2018, there was a motor vehicle accident involving a van and a motorcyclist on Ocean Avenue. An accident occurred in which the motorcyclist was severely injured. As a result, according to the police report, Felix M. Gill, born July 30, 1953, of West Side Road, Block Island, was charged with DUI resulting in serious personal injury.
In other ways to reduce crime, Carlone said he wanted to see businesses bringing domestic workers to the island perform complete background checks.
“Businesses are bringing in summer workers from the United States with long criminal records, drug problems and bad behavior,” he wrote. In contrast, Carlone said, “The foreign workers are college kids in their respective countries and are much better behaved… If they are going to hire from this country, they can do a thorough background check at their expense with a private security company specializing in background investigation.”
On a related subject, Carlone described some of the worker housing on the island as an “area of serious concern… It is an attractive nuisance and breeding ground for bad behavior.”
Carlone described one incident at the Overlook Housing Project where a fight with a tenant occurred in which two police officers were injured, “one very seriously with cut tendons in his hand.” He wrote that the Overlook is a “place that needs to be rehabilitated, cleaned, less people in each room, managed properly with leases and damage deposits, and written rules and regulation.” Carlone later told The Times that the incident, which occurred on Sept. 18, 2018, led to the arrest of Theron Jacques, an occupant of the Overlook. Jacques, from South Africa and born on Oct. 23, 1989, was charged with assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.
In another instance of businesses not doing background checks, Carlone (in that separate meeting with The Times) cited the arrest of Victor M. Simard, born July 14, 1982, and from Salem, Mass., for breaking and entering and larceny at a home where Jacques was working on the property. Carlone said Simard had a lengthy criminal record.
On another topic, the congestion on Weldon’s Way comprising moped, walkers, and car traffic, continues to be vexing.
Carlone mentioned the situation in his report, and several councilors also said that something needed to be done about what they considered to be a safety issue. Carlone’s recommendation was to make Weldon’s Way a one-way street, and it was noted that the issue was on the agenda for an upcoming work session.
“The one-way, you think that’s feasible?” asked Councilor Martha Ball.
“It seems it would lessen the congestion,” said Carlone.
“I think that’s worth looking into,” said Ball.
Roberge said the issue of traffic on Weldon’s Way was a safety, engineering, and policy issue that would require a prolonged discussion.
Carlone said the island was also inundated with electric-powered vehicles of all kinds this summer. He noted that there are no prohibitions for their use in cities and towns in South County, there are restrictions here — only no one knows what they are.
“People will generally follow the rules if they know what they are,” said Carlone.
“We have lousy signage downtown,” said Councilor Martha Ball.
Second Warden André Boudreau asked why the police log was not published regularly in The Block Island Times.
“In terms of public information, we have to address it all. We disclose everything any time we have requests for disclosure,” Carlone said. “We have never failed to do that. I like the fact that we are a little nicer in this community, but it’s not my decision [to publish the police log]. I like that, but it’s not my decision.”
It was also a season of successes and challenges for the Harbors Department. Successes included the new, much-heralded dinghy dock at New Harbor and a new pump-out boat and trash boat.
“It was a good summer,” said Harbormaster Steve Land. “Weather in the beginning wasn’t great. We had a few open town moorings in July… by August we were jamming.”
Land said the dumpster that was placed near the new dinghy dock was an idea he initially did not support. “I thought it was going to be a nightmare,” he said, but it turned out to be a great success.
He had special praise for his young staff. “They were great,” Land said.
Challenges include increasing the maximum boat size at those moorings that allow a length no greater than 55 feet. “Those moorings fill up instantly,” Land said. “Boat sizes are not getting smaller.”
He said lack of convenient public showers continues to be an embarrassment. “To tell someone you have to walk to Old Harbor in your bathrobe makes you feel like a chump,” Land said. “This is something we need to work on.”
The old Harbormaster office that was located at the Boat Basin closed last year, created a logistics problem. If there was an issue that needed to be addressed, Land said, “We had to go to them, they could not come to us,” he said. And while selling clamming licenses out of town hall did not seem to impact sales, Land said the lack of a permanent office is “something we need to put our heads together to try to figure out.”
Councilor Sven Risom asked about the possibility of a “permanently anchored boat” for an office, Land said “I’m up for anything.”
Land said he was also leaning toward hiring a drone pilot to assist in getting accurate boat counts in the summer.
Risom said accurate boat counts would help the Harbors Department better understand how many visitors come to the island by boat.
All the councilors had praise for the renovated Beach Pavilion, which, in his report from the Recreation Department, Director Dave Sniffen said proved to be a safe and welcoming environment for visitors and the seasonal staff that lived there during the summer.
Sniffen said that revenue at the Town Beach was up dramatically, from $77,000 last year to $105,000 this year, which he attributed to better inventory for rented items, such as umbrellas, of new, non-traditional programs at the beach.