If civilians volunteer to man the phone and front desk at district police stations, more officers could be out working in the community, Eastern Districts Area Commander Richard Barrow told a North Side audience on Thursday night.
Competent and trustworthy volunteers would provide coverage at the station by taking calls, collecting information and connecting with the police patrol car in the area, he explained.
Acting Police Commissioner James Smith expressed support for the idea, but pointed out that proper co-ordination will be a key factor in any such arrangement.
Mr. Barrow began the meeting, held at the Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre, by reviewing concerns expressed at the last district police meeting in November. These included drug abuse, working with young people and high visibility of police at commercial premises at critical times.
‘We do face staffing constraints,’ he continued. He listed contributing factors: deployment of officers to the Sister Islands since Hurricane Paloma in November; major incident rooms activated in other districts that pulled officers away from the Eastern Districts. Later Mr. Smith added the factors of officers retiring unexpectedly or leaving the force before their contract is over.
District MLA Edna Moyle said she had worked in Finance Committee for 16 years to get money voted so that North Side could have 24-hour coverage. ‘Why is there a car at the station and people go and knock on the door and nobody is there?’ she asked. When that happens, ‘people don’t call you — they call me,’ she told officers
‘We always have an officer in North Side,’ Mr. Barrow maintained. Discussion of coverage followed.
Mrs. Moyle asked why officers she met in the district were based in Bodden Town or East End.
Mr. Barrow explained that each officer in the Eastern Districts must have good knowledge of all the Eastern Districts because they may have to assist colleagues. Sometimes officers are switched around.
Police vehicles are deliberately dispersed to the different stations, he said. Keeping the fleet at the Bodden Town hub would create problems if the road were blocked between there and Frank Sound Road, he pointed out.
Should an officer on patrol have a vehicle problem, the extra vehicle at the station would be a replacement, he added.
For times when people go to the station and no one is there, Mr. Barrow said he had a sign put on the door advising that the officer is on patrol. Avoiding such a situation is the reason for wanting volunteers, he indicated.
Two residents named specific sites of specific suspicious activity involving drugs and Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ennis said these could be looked into.
Property manager Roy Johnson shared complaints from his clients; people parking in their driveway without permission, taking lawn chairs and kayaks, leaving a mess behind. His concern was that repeat visitors were saying they are not coming back any more because it’s not the quiet, peaceful place they first came to and they don’t feel safe any more.
Mr. Johnson said he had to put alarm systems into a majority of the homes he managed.
In reply, Mr. Barrow said officers would be glad to meet with residents to discuss anti-burglary measures.
He asserted that the traffic problem had improved, noting that Mardi Gras at the Kaibo on Ash Wednesday had gone well because organisers had provided a shuttle service.
Mrs. Mitzi Tomlinson referred to the check point officers had set up for cars on their way to Mardi Gras. She suggested checking drivers on their way back and doing breath tests for alcohol consumption.
Mr. Barrow said officers could not do breath tests without reasonable suspicion, but the point was well taken.
Other topics included the duties of a community police officer, possible programmes to reduce recidivism, blue headlights and loud music late at night on public beaches.
During a discussion of traffic concerns, Mr. Smith spoke in favour of the use of speed cameras, which he said cost less than an officer’s salary. As to speed bumps, he warned they can be dangerous.
After the meeting, Mr. Barrow said one or two persons had already expressed interest in his idea of volunteers manning police stations. He agreed with Mr. Smith that such a system would have to be managed properly.
He said anyone interested could contact him at the Bodden Town Police Station, 947-2220.