Police advisory group revived
The citizens of Block Island voted to bring back the Police Advisory Commission at the March 2021 election, by changing the wording in the Town Charter referencing such a commission from “may” to “shall.” The previous police administration had asked the Town Council to disband the Police Advisory Commission, which the council did, as it was not required to have one (“may” vs. “shall” in legalese.) On Friday, July 30, the newly reconstituted group, made up of Molly O’Neill, Jim Hinthorn, Andy Transue, Caroline Collins, and John Spier, met for the first time and discussed the role of this revamped commission.
Hinthorn said the “end goal is to deliver the most professional and effective police services possible in the community.” He went on to tell Police Chief Matt Moynihan, “We want you to succeed, to be the best chief you can be.”
Moynihan thanked the group for volunteering their time to be on the commission, saying: “I welcome all your feedback; honest and open discussion is how a community can really thrive.” He went on to say, “Advisory commissions are very valuable.”
O’Neill presented some of the feedback she had received from the community on policing. “There are some themes, mopeds are still a core issue.” O’Neil also
mentioned electric scooters, skateboards, and bicycles. “Traffic is on everyone’s mind,” she said. “You have to be very zen if you’re going to drive around all day out here.”
Hinthorn said he had not reached out to anyone, preferring to wait until after the first commission meeting so the group could solicit community input, perhaps through a community meeting. He said he thought mopeds, drinking, drugs, domestic violence, and lack of civility would probably top everyone’s lists of concerns.
O’Neill said one respondent to her informal survey had provided some specific insight. “We are in an abusive relationship with our visitors. We have them come back every year, and we feel like we have to be nice to them when they are being just awful,” the respondent wrote.
“The biggest challenge is staffing,” Moynihan said. “This is a unique situation. We need a department of 20 in the summer, and a department of five in the winter.” The chief touted the success of the Community Service Officer program, but mentioned that there are limits to what he is allowed to ask the CSOs to do. For instance, “the CSOs can’t enforce motor vehicle violations,” Moynihan said. Despite shortages, the chief had a bright outlook on the future. “I think from this advisory commission, what would be helpful is to find out what’s most important,” and ways to “think outside the box.”
O’Neill asked about the role of dispatch with the department.
Moynihan described the position as “inundated” with calls, and said the dispatcher’s work area was not up to par. “They deserve to have a good work environment.”
Town Manager Maryanne Crawford agreed, saying that in many places, “the dispatch is the largest room in the police station.” Moynihan pointed out that in many departments there is a desk sergeant with the dispatcher who assigns the calls to the officers in the field and helps keep things organized.
When asked what came as the biggest shock to him upon his arrival, the chief answered, “technology,” without a second’s hesitation. He went on to say the department is in the process of putting computers into the patrol cars, which will help ease some of the burden on the dispatcher, who currently has to look up any and all information for the officer on patrol. Most mainland departments have already taken this step.
“They’ve been in place for well over 20 years,” Crawford said, referring to computers in the patrol cars at police departments she’s worked with in the past.
Hinthorn told the chief: “If the community at large knew all these challenges that you face, if they knew you needed six officers instead of four, we could put a case forward. We found $4.5 million for the property at Champlin’s. Most of the people in this community, if the case were put forward, would support you and give you the resources you need.”
“Dispatch is the priority,” Moynihan said. “We need to increase the number of dispatchers.”
The Police Advisory Commission will meet again on September 2 to put together a community outreach program to get input from the residents of Block Island on concerns and solutions.