Police Advisory Commission looking for input

Thu, 09/09/2021 - 2:15pm

The Police Advisory Commission wants to hear from you. The group met last Thursday to talk about defining the role of the commission, as well as to brainstorm ideas on obtaining public input.

Newly minted Chair Jim Hinthorn explained his view of the commission’s role: “It’s an advisory role, but also more of a proactive role.”
Vice-chair Andy Transue led the Police Advisory Commission in the late 1980s prior to its disbandment, when it had a more expanded role than the current PAC.

“We interviewed applicants for the summer cops,” Transue said. “We oversaw the budget, and had a lot to do with forming and putting the budget together, and acquiring capital expenses for the police department. It was an avenue for local residents if they had a problem with the police department, but didn’t want to talk to the police department. They could talk to us.”

Hinthorn reminded the group early on that “we have no budget, and we don’t supervise the chief.”

At its inaugural meeting in July, the PAC discussed developing a survey in order to get input on general concerns and solutions. Member Molly O’Neill had gotten some informal feedback from members of the public that she shared with the group at that meeting. Hinthorn had taken her results and prepared a sample list of survey questions for this meeting.

Everyone agreed that public input is going to be very important for the commission’s work moving forward, and the discussion on September 2 centered on the best way to elicit that input, whether through a formal survey, an open-ended questionnaire, or some other means.
“I’ve been keeping it very vague,” O’Neill said, describing her questions to the community. She explained her view that if the questions were too specific, people might not feel able to express their particular issue. “I think we leave it broad.”
Member Caroline Collins agreed that leaving the questions vague would “open it up,” and suggested asking not only for the community’s concerns, but also its input on solutions.

O’Neill pointed out that if the survey is sent out in November there will be completely different answers from one sent out in the summer.
Transue agreed, saying moped issues may take a back seat to parking issues, for instance.
Member John Spier said the “broad-ranging” survey questions should “focus on what the police have to do with it.” He pointed out that some of the questions and responses were actually on issues better suited for the Planning Board or the Town Council.

Hinthorn agreed, saying some of the issues raised in the community feedback provided by O’Neill were actually “education” issues. “Some of these have police involvement to a greater or lesser degree,” he said.

Town Manager Maryanne Crawford suggested to the group that an email address be established for the commission, as she had done during the town’s police chief search, as a way for people to get in contact and offer input.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the responses,” Crawford said, calling the input on the new police chief “thoughtful,” and “great feedback.” She suggested getting a list of concerns together and asking respondents to rank the top five.

O’Neill told the group that she did not think the questionnaire should be a list. “People are going to rank our list,” she said. “I would rather hear their list.”
Collins agreed, saying, “I don’t think we should lead people.”

The PAC is working to get a community questionnaire finalized and an email address set up at Town Hall, and will advertise both on the Block Island Bulletin Board, The Block Island Times, and social media.