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Sunday, October 17, 2004

October 17, 2004 - Survey: Town cops could do better - Greenwich Time

The results of a wide-ranging survey of residents gives high marks to police officers for responding to day-to-day problems, but shows respondents feel the department could do better solving law-enforcement problems in specific neighborhoods."Police officers received high ratings in performance when there is contact made by residents but in contrast received lower ratings in being proactive in dealing with neighborhood issues or topics of crime prevention," the survey concluded.The survey confirmed the department's perception that residents want better communication with police to reduce quality-of-life problems such as traffic and noise, as well as more substantial issues regarding drugs, youth crime and other offenses, according to Chief James Walters and Capt. Michael Pacewicz, director of strategic planning for the department."The survey indicates the community feels there is not enough specific contact with the officers in neighborhoods," Walters said. "We want to work on getting officers to make the contacts with residents and fold the community policing concept into what we're doing."The department's community policing initiative, which Walters launched in mid-2003, is an attempt to solve quality-of-life problems and address the root causes of crime by seeking resident input to help target enforcement and better understand the intricacies of each neighborhood.Pacewicz said 600 of the multiple choice surveys were mailed to randomly chosen addresses in the town's five ZIP codes, yielding 158 anonymous responses between May and July. Police analyzed the responses to 95 questions to calculate average ratings for quality of life, crime and neighborhood concerns, and the effectiveness of the police department's response to crimes both townwide and by ZIP code. The five ZIP codes submitted similar numbers or replies: 32, 35, 31, 32, and 28.Patrol officers are being given greater autonomy to solve problems, officials said, and most recently the department divided the town into three sectors -- north, east, and west -- and assigned individual officers to work those beats permanently in hopes of establishing stronger ties and communication with residents. Police have also begun organizing an advisory council of residents to air concerns throughout the town."In Greenwich we have a very limited amount of street crime so we really want to know what the major quality-of-life issues are," Pacewicz said.Asked to rate their approval of the police department on a scale of 1 to 5, residents townwide gave the department a rating of 4 and rated traffic (4.25) as the most pressing threat to their quality of life. But evaluations of the department's handling of perennial law-enforcement challenges such as juvenile crime, school incidents, enforcement of drug laws and several other categories ranged between average and unsatisfactory."I am confident in GPD," one backcountry resident wrote. "However the Department needs more (officers). I reside in the backcountry where few if any officers patrol the area in the mornings when people speed on North Street."On a scale of 1 to 5, police officers and dispatchers responding to calls for service received an overall rating of 4.01, with various criteria including helpfulness, knowledge, interest, courtesy and attitude factored in."Our officers got very high marks for performance and demeanor," Pacewicz said.Most residents untouched by crime contend with less sensational issues such as traffic and development, Michael Tedesco, president of the King Street Homeowners Association said. Tedesco said he considers bad and inattentive drivers the big-gest threat to his safety."I really think the Greenwich Police Department does a really good job," Tedesco said. "Anything they can do to make it better would be great but I have no real requests."Respondents townwide gave police average ratings for presence in neighborhoods, (2.94) and for enforcing traffic laws (2.93) and a below average rating for preventing juvenile crime (2.29) and enforcing drug laws (2.05).Concerning police performance for enforcing drug laws, residents in different ZIP codes gave the department ratings from 1.81 in Old Greenwich to 2.21 in the 06830 area code, which encompasses Byram, Belle Haven and central Greenwich.In written comments on the most important issues facing the town today, many respondents cited alcohol and drug abuse and delinquency among youth."Young kids hanging out on Greenwich Avenue in packs," one respondent wrote."Underage drinking, drugs," another respondent wrote. "Kids hanging out on the Avenue at night are asking for trouble."After traffic, residents rated the five most important law-enforcement issues affecting them as drugs, residential burglary, white-collar crime, hate crime, and violent crime.Pacewicz said that white-collar crime such as identity theft and credit card fraud have become more common in town in the past five years."I think many more residents have become victims of those crimes," Pacewicz said.Pacewicz said that drug investigations are difficult for town officers because few transactions are actually conducted in public, unlike more urban areas."In terms of narcotics sales, a lot of it goes on behind closed doors in this town," Pacewicz said.Asked to rate a list of suburban blights including vandalism, loud music and parties, theft, and poor street repair, all were categorized as minor or negligible problems."The survey has to be taken in the context that most respondents rated the town as being a very safe place to live in," Pacewicz said.The survey also asked respondents if they would support assigning a school resource officer to help school security staff establish a safe school environment, and develop relationships with teenagers, parents,and school officials, and if they support community policing. The majority of respondents said they were unfamiliar with both initiatives.Walters said this fall the department has added two training programs to spur officers to be more community oriented.Lieutenants will take courses in public speaking to help them make better presentations to community groups, Walters said.To teach officers to act more independently, Walters said the department's field training officers will be taught how to teach new officers problem-solving techniques. The field training program is a 12-week period in which experienced officers work alongside rookies."We want to empower our patrol officers to work with members of the community," Walters said. "I want them to be creative and give them more freedom and confidence."

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