On Wednesday afternoon First Selectman Fred Camillo and Greenwich Police met with reporters on Greenwich Ave to talk about policing and safety in the downtown area.
Greenwich Police Deputy Chief Robert Berry, officer Nick Carl from the bike unit, and foot patrol officer Nicholas Sarno were present. In the vicinity were two plain clothes officers, as well as an officer in Car 45, which is posted to the central business district.
The timing was notable, given a widely circulated video of a July 18 mugging of a woman outside the Apple Store and a slew of arrests of suspects for fraudulent financial activity in local bank branches.
Camillo said the video was misleading in that it cut off just before police arrive.
In fact, Deputy Chief Berry said a bike officer was one of the first on the scene.
“In this case, you have a bike officer who can be here in less than 60 seconds, or one of the walking officers with a similar response time,” Berry said. “You’re going to have more officers in the area focused on providing police services. Whether it is criminal apprehension or medical response, there’s more officers with a quicker response time than when we had (police officers) directing traffic.”
Still, there is a point of view expressed on social media and in letters to the editor that when there were uniformed police directing traffic at intersections on Greenwich Avenue their presence was a deterrent to criminals.
Deputy Chief Berry disputed that.
He acknowledged the uptick in arrests in the area of Greenwich Ave, which are published in this news outlet, but he said that was not correlated to the absence of uniformed officers at the intersections, but rather to the nimble response of bike police and plain clothes officers.
“We’re now able to make arrests. If you look at our arrests being up. It’s because they’re there,” Berry said.
“It would be an unsolved crime most of the time,” Officer Carl said. “They’re being solved now.”
“We had robberies within 100 yards of officers directing traffic,” Berry said of the years police were stationed at intersections to direct traffic. “Because the criminals are out there watching, and they know (police) are out in the middle of the intersection and not going anywhere.”
Berry said that when police directed traffic, due to scheduling and having two or three intersections to staff, 5-6 officers were required, six days a week, including a relief person in the rotation.
“We actually now have more officers assigned down here that are working – the bike patrol, the walking patrol, the patrol car – we’ve put more officers on the ground than when there were officers directing traffic,” he said.
Berry said the mugging of the woman coming out of the Apple Store did receive a lot of attention.
But, he said response times are quicker.
“These guys are constantly zipping around, up and down the Avenue,” Berry said, gesturing to Officer Carl beside his electric bike. “It’s expanded the footprint beyond the two or three white circles in the middle of Greenwich Avenue. They’re able to get up and down Greenwich Ave much faster, but also on the surrounding streets. You’ll see them on Mason Street and Milbank Avenue. You’ll see them up at Town Hall and through the park. Their ability on these bikes to respond to incidents is probably faster than Car Post 45.”
John Cooper, a pedestrian who joined the press conference, said he was a Call-A-Ride volunteer who drives the elderly in the downtown area. He described seeing near-misses with pedestrians.
Berry said that even 25 years ago, when he started his police career in Greenwich, pedestrians disregarded instructions of officers directing traffic.
“A lot of these other changes, including physical construction of the road, with all the thousands of people walking these streets, there just are not serious injuries,” Berry said.
“Google ‘Bump outs’ and ‘Bump Outs that have been torn out,’ because they don’t work,” Mr. Cooper said.
Camillo said, “These do work. Bump outs do work. New London just adopted Complete Streets, which is what we’re trying to do here. It’s a lot safer whenever you decrease the distance that someone has to cross from one side to the other. You’re increasing sight lines, and with the raised pavement you’re making the cars slow down a bit.”
The First Selectman said communities on Long Island and at least one town in Westchester had implemented similar intersection improvements.
“What’s key is what works for our community – and we truly believe that this combination of the policing we described and these physical improvements to the street itself, is really the best recipe for safety in our community.”
– Deputy Chief Robert Berry
Camillo said the town was responding to feedback. He said there were concerns that the intersection at Elm Street was raised a bit too high, and that the intersection at Fawcett and Grigg would be lower.
He said he was frustrated at comments on social media, including, for example, a comment that an officer directing traffic at Fawcett/Grigg was removed, but there was never an officer stationed there.
“DPW did traffic studies showing the most pedestrian traffic was from 4:00 to 6:00pm,” Camillo added. “In fact, the last person who was hit was on Arch Street at Greenwich Avenue, right front of an officer, who was directing traffic. That was in January 2019.”
Camillo said Greenwich was recently rated the 5th safest of the 169 municipalities in Connecticut.
“We know because we’re safe, we’re even more of a target,” Camillo added. “We ask you, please, be aware of your immediate surroundings, don’t leave your keys in the car.”
Camillo asked residents to partner with the town’s fire, police, and emergency medical services, and do their part by being aware of surroundings, locking their cars and bringing keys and valuables inside.
Officer Carl said that there are times when traffic backs up at a Greenwich Ave intersections and bicycle police jump in to direct traffic.
“If there is a need, we can get in there and clear up traffic, but it tends to back up traffic more,” he said. “You think you’re going to relieve it, and then it tends to back it up more.”
“You can definitely feel an influx of new residents, but a lot of people are on the phone and a lot of people are not paying attention,” officer Carl continued. “The pedestrians do have the right of way, but they have to be safe at the same time.”
As for the uptick in arrests, Camillo placed some blame on relaxed laws in the state of New York.
“They’re not just staying in New York City,” he said. “That’s why having the extra presence here, we’re much more protected.”
Camillo pointed to laws about how long a juvenile can be held in custody, qualified immunity and other instances of laws being weakened.
“Without public health and public safety, nothing else matters,” Camillo said. “What you’re seeing in New York City is not helpful, but we’ll deal with it.”