Police facing traffic and staffing issues

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 6:30pm

The New Shoreham Police Department is struggling to find solutions to two issues that it’s facing: seasonal traffic on Block Island, and an impending staff shortage.

“Probably the founders of Block Island never predicted that there would be that many people coming in ferry after ferry, after ferry into one commercial district that is several blocks long. It’s the last remaining problem that I really don’t have a solution for, but maybe there is somebody that does; I don’t know.”

That’s what Police Chief Vin Carlone said while presenting his quarterly report to the Town Council at its meeting on Monday night. Carlone noted that while people were “being respectful” with regard to criminal behavior on the island, and shoplifting was down this year, that the “biggest problem” is traffic.

“The summer was obviously very busy with traffic,” said Carlone, noting that his report includes 116 traffic citations. “I’ve never seen it as busy in 15 years with traffic and congestion. That is our biggest issue, increased vehicle and pedestrian traffic. And I don’t know if there is anything you can do when you put two or three thousand people onto a small road” during the summer season.

As for what to do about it, he said, “We are kind of at a loss with what to do about that. When we had Officer Davis on staff, he was an expert regarding traffic safety. He did some good things” to address the problem. In Nov. of 2015, Al Davis, a traffic safety expert delivered an 83-page report containing helpful tips and suggestions, some of which the town implemented as policy.

“I think it really needs to be studied by an expert,” said Carlone, noting that the roads in the Old Harbor commercial district might need to be managed differently to handle the increase in seasonal traffic, which also raises the issue of a staffing shortage.

“I think we probably stand to lose three or four of our reserve officers next year,” said Carlone. “The state police do a great job. If we could get more presence from the state police” that would help. He said, “In other island communities the state police have a barracks full-time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week.”

“It would do us well to have a state police presence seven days a week here,” said Carlone. “That’s a goal that we should be trying to achieve; a full-time state police commitment.”

Carlone also said that retired police officers were once an option, but since the retirement age has been raised that’s no longer the case. “The retiring process is extended longer, so whereas we could hire a guy who was 45 or 50 years old, now it’s 60 years of age. And a lot of them don’t want to do it anymore. So, it’s kind of a problem.”

Another problem is hiring “four or five policemen at great expense” for the summer season, but having no use for them during the winter months. “This is a discussion that we have to have.”

Councilor Sven Risom asked Carlone how other small communities in the state deal with a shortage of law enforcement staff. “What are they doing to address our problem?”

“They have mutual aid,” said Carlone, explaining that those communities can call and get “20 or 30 officers” from nearby to bolster their force. “They can drive there. So they don’t have the same problem.”

As part of his report, Carlone informed the Town Council prior to its upcoming liquor license renewal meeting on Nov. 7, that the island’s establishments were all in good standing. “We partnered with the establishments to reduce incidents,” said Carlone. “It went very well.”

“Are there any red flags we should know about?” asked Risom

“No,” said Carlone. “The population is up, but incidents are down.”

Hodge Property informational kiosk

The Town Council unanimously approved $500 toward installation of an informational kiosk at the Hodge Property. The town will share the cost of the kiosk with three groups: The Nature Conservancy, Block Island Conservancy, and the Land Trust. The Nature Conservancy will procure, install and maintain the kiosk, which will be situated to the right of the opening at the property’s main entrance.

Capital Improvement Plan report

Town Manager Ed Roberge took the Town Council through a step-by-step review of his capital improvement program, which details the status and timeline of the town’s capital projects. Roberge’s program can be found in the council’s agenda on the town’s website. During his report, Roberge admitted that the town’s new website was supposed to unveiled this year. He said he will meet with the town’s IT Director this week to discuss the website, while also noting that no date has been set to launch it. 

Southeast Light Delights

The Town Council unanimously approved (4-0) the request of the Southeast Light Delights food truck to inhabit the taxi stand location in Old Harbor for the annual Holiday Shopping Stroll on Nov. 29 and 30, and Dec. 1. Second Warden André Boudreau, who owns and operates the food truck, recused himself from the discussion and the vote.

Phone scam warning

During his warden’s report, First Warden Ken Lacoste said the public should be aware of phone scams. He said there are all kinds of scams, and warned the public to be vigilant and not fall for them. 

The next Town Council meeting is Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m.