Chief James Heavey: Let’s Make Greenwich Avenue Two-Way Again!

Let’s Make Greenwich Avenue Two-Way Again!

Now that I have your attention, I assure you I’m not proposing anything quite so radical. Rather, I’m updating you on recent changes to policing on Greenwich Avenue. Officers have been redeployed so that instead of working fixed traffic posts, they are either on the bike team, foot patrol, or the ORCA team which addresses crime concerns in the central Greenwich commercial area.
 
On, January 19, the RTM will vote on the effectiveness of these changes. Before they do, I’d like to explain how policing on the Avenue has changed over the years. Note that I speak with authority, not just as your police chief but as someone who grew up on Lewis Street. Yes, I am so old that I still look both ways when I cross Greenwich Ave!
 
It was in 1970 that the Avenue was changed to one-way to improve traffic flow, and police officers remained stationed at three intersections. In 2010, my predecessor removed the officer from the intersection of Greenwich Ave and Lewis Street. Some of the local merchants were upset, but the absence of an officer on Lewis Street did not result in traffic mayhem and allowed us to cover other emerging issues.
 
When I became chief, we returned an officer to Lewis Street twice a year: during the week of sidewalk sales (with reimbursement from the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce) and between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve. There was no additional officer to spell the Lewis Street officer on his or her breaks, so we had to pull a patrol post officer to provide relief.
 
In 2019 the department recognized that there was an increase in a number of crimes in the downtown area, including large scale shoplifting, identity theft and misuse of fraudulent or stolen credit cards, which had significant impact on local residents and merchants.
 
We created a special team called the Organized Retail Criminal Activity (ORCA) Team. ORCA officers dressed in plain clothes and worked with shop owners, with outstanding results. In just the last year they have investigated 48 cases, resulting in 41 persons being arrested for 65 felonies, 37 misdemeanors and dozens of infractions. Many of these local arrests were tied to major regional cases being investigated by federal law enforcement agencies. Many of these suspects have been tied to violent crimes committed elsewhere.
 
ORCA has prevented countless crimes, assisted agencies in solving similar crimes in other communities, and is now a model for other police agencies.
 
When the COVID-19 Pandemic struck our community in March of 2020, the traffic officers had few vehicles to control and nearly no one to assist in crossing the street. We redeployed them to other important pandemic-related tasks. Months later, we partnered with other town departments to facilitate reopening the Avenue with nodes for outdoor dining and shopping.
 
We recognized we would have more policing to do, but fewer officers to do it. To better respond to new ways people visited the Avenue, we returned officers to patrolling on foot and on bicycles. This police presence is now enhanced by four electric bicycles, donated by a town resident.
 
When I become a full-time officer in 1986, we had 175 police officers. This number remained steady until after 2000, when the number dropped to 156. As of July 1,, 2020, the department has 152 sworn full-time officers. Thus, during my tenure at GPD police officer strength has decreased by over 10% and during the same time frame the population of Greenwich has increased by about 5%.
 
So, it’s not true that there are fewer officers on Greenwich Avenue now than when they were on fixed traffic posts. On News Years’ Eve, I walked the Avenue to find Officer Repik directing traffic on Havemeyer Place. (Officers are empowered to direct traffic whenever they see a need.) I saw Officers Smurlo and D’Inverno patrolling on bicycles. I noted Officers Hall and Daly in civilian clothes, checking with retailers and communicating new information about recent activity.
 
While a vote to restore officers to fixed traffic posts on the Avenue would be non-binding and not mandatory, it would be a virtual vote of “no confidence” in the efforts by the Greenwich Police Department to address emerging crime trends and to align limited police resources with the needs of the community.
 
I hope the RTM will recognize that Greenwich continues to be a special place to live and work, but in order to remain resilient we have to adapt to change.
 
I sincerely believe that the use of foot and bike mounted patrols, alongside our ORCA program, provides the best service to the Greenwich community and that the return of police officers directing traffic on Greenwich Avenue would be a detriment to these efforts.
If you have questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me.
 
Learn more: https://www.greenwichct.gov/396/Citizens-Comment-Program
 
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