Election 2017: Priorities, station are questions for Police Commission candidates

What are police Commission candidates’ priorities? What would they do about the police station building?

The press asked these questions of the five candidates running for Police Commission on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Seeking Police Commission seats are three Republican incumbents who are being challenged by two Democrats. The incumbent Republicans are Joseph Savino. Thomas F. Reynolds and Marcie Coffin. The Democrats are Stephen Saloom and Arnold E. DiLaura.

Voters will be able to select three of the five, and three will be elected. The Police Commission is a five-member board with one Democrat and one Republican who are currently serving but not up for reelection.

Here are the questions and candidates’ answers, provided in writing within word limits. Answers appear in the order they were received.

  1. What would be your top three priorities as a Police Commission member? (150 words)

JOSEPH SAVINO (R): As a father of two children and 27 year resident of Ridgefield, I appreciate living in a town that is rated the safest in Connecticut. We must stay ahead of issues. My priorities are to:

Improve Traffic:  Proactively work with neighborhoods to address increased traffic with additional enforcement. Fund a traffic study to get new recommendations to improve traffic flow on town and state roads. Continue to work with P&Z to on new zoning applications to mitigate additional traffic and congestion.

School Security and Expand Drug Prevention efforts:  Continue to improve school security with the BOE and expand drug prevention efforts further into the middle school and elementary schools. The DARE Program and the Drug Take-Back Program have been successful, more work is needed with community groups.

Improve emergency response time by implementing Central Dispatch. Other towns and communities have implemented this, and seen the benefits of improved response times.

STEPHEN SALOOM (D): As a Police Commissioner, preventing opioid abuse and addiction, effectively addressing concerns on our roads, and enabling our police force to be current with best practices would be my top three priorities.

Opioid abuse and addiction present Ridgefield’s greatest public safety threat.   Our police department is central to the community-wide effort to prevent these problems. As Police Commissioner, I would foster leadership to enable all Ridgefield residents, leaders, and organizations to recognize and protect against pathways to opioid abuse and addiction.

Southbound commuters use Florida Road, where I live, as a Route 7 shortcut, making it dangerous for walkers and other drivers.  I appreciate that RPD showed reasonableness and care in response to my concerns, and I’d encourage the same for all traffic concerns.

Finally, as an International Association of Chiefs of Police Committee Member (Professionalism, Standards, Image and Ethics) I would share their best practices with our excellent department.

MARCIE COFFIN (R): My top priorities will remain the same, and those are: (1) Ensuring the overall safety of the town; (2) Supporting our Police Officers in their duties; and (3) Managing and improving traffic control.

Ridgefield has been voted the safest town in Connecticut, which is only possible because of the hard work and dedication of our Officers. The Police Commission supports the officers in their proactive community policing efforts, including bike patrols, park and walk on Main Street, Cops and Cones, junior police academy, D.A.R.E., and social media presence. The Officers need the support of the Commission to ensure they have the training and resources they need. Traffic control and public safety of our roads continues to be a concern throughout town, so we must continue work with state and local agencies to determine the best viable option for maintaining safe roadways.

ARNOLD DiLAURIA (D): The number 1 issue raised by the public is traffic safety and flow. Traffic calming solutions (which can be as simple as a one or more orange cones deployed at key times or be permanently installed like speed humps or crosswalk lights) can make a significant difference. If we can improve walkability in and around town it benefits our businesses and improves traffic flow.

Another priority is the management of the department. My four key areas are: Personnel; Training; Policies and Procedures, and Equipment. Sound personnel decisions insure we have the right people at each level of the department. Other communities have seen the disastrous consequences a flawed hiring process. Police work changes over time – many of today’s threats differ from those of even the recent past. Robust training plus policies and equipment allows our officers to calibrate their response appropriately.

The final priority is substance abuse, in particular the opioid crisis.

TOM REYNOLDS (R): My top 3 priorities as Police Commissioner are:

  • The safety of our children.  Today’s world poses many threats to children, and we all must be vigilant in safeguarding them.  Our police officers play a significant role in this by ensuring the security of our schools and public areas used by children, monitoring of domestic violence situations and preventing drug abuse.
  • Continue to seek ways to control the flow of traffic through Ridgefield.  Traffic volume seems to increase every year, which results in drivers looking for alternative routes around main roads.  This puts a huge strain on our local roads, and threatens the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
  • Ensure that our officers have sufficient training to handle any situation that may arise, and well as the resources at their disposal to keep our Town safe.  There is a reason why Ridgefield has been recognized as the safest town in Connecticut. 

2. Over the years the town has discussed a variety of  plans to renovate, expand, replace or relocate the current police station. What’s your preferred solution?

JOSEPH SAVINO (R): Improving emergency response time is a top Ridgefield priority. There are several options including creating a new emergency service headquarters, as well as implementing a regional solution similar to other small towns. I favor the recommendation of the Ridgefield Central Dispatch Taskforce which recommended a minor expansion to the current police headquarters. Since this study was completed, Ridgefield has upgraded its existing police facility and implemented a two million dollar town wide communication system upgrade. Therefore Ridgefield does not require a new 40 million dollar facility, with the added expenses. My solution is to utilize the existing resources and assets we already have in Ridgefield town government and  reconfigure them the way the private sector works in order to deliver better customer service to Ridgefielders. With a minor renovation to the police station and some additional investments, we can implement a modernized central dispatch system that will improve emergency response times.  

STEPHEN SALOOM (D): To be safe and secure in our homes is a top priority in Ridgefield.  Our Police Department does an excellent job. We expect a lot from them.  They deserve to be supported in meeting our high standards.    Ridgefield’s Police Station is fundamental to their operations.

On the question of whether to renovate, expand, replace, or relocate the current police station, all of those factors would be firmly in my mind – yet so is the fact that we must spend our tax dollars wisely on this long-term investment.

Our next-generation police station must foster effectiveness and efficiency while pursuing the highest quality.   To date I’ve heard competing opinions on this issue; the devil is in the details in ways I haven’t yet been able to examine.  As Commissioner, I would prioritize the smartest long-term use of taxpayer dollars to enable our police to strongly protect our public safety into the future.

MARCIE COFFIN (R): Like the rest of society, our government, including the Police Department, have to keep up with technological and other advances. That includes the physical facilities.The Town should review the feasibility of a combined public safety building, which could accommodate both the Police and Fire Departments, including the ideal location. If it is determined that a combined public safety building is not deemed appropriate, then we will have to find a way to modernize the existing headquarters building while maximizing value. The advantages of the current police station are its central location, with easy access to many areas of town, and that it can be serviced by the existing radio tower. Whichever way we decide to go, we have to make it work.

ARNOLD DiLAURIA (D): As an operations researcher, the process I use to evaluate alternatives (such as renovate or replace, etc.) maximizes cost-effectiveness.  In consultation with the department, we begin by generating a requirements document, which lists all the requirements the new station must meet. We then evaluate each alternative (renovate, replace, re-locate, etc.)  in terms of the cost incurred to achieve all of the requirements. It is important to note that costs must include future sustainability costs in addition to the one-time construction costs.

Without pre-judging the outcome of the process, given the age and configuration of the existing building, I think renovation is unlikely to prove a cost-effective solution. However I will certainly keep an open mind on this and the other alternatives. The ultimate measure of merit will be best value for the town.

TOM REYNOLDS (R): Our Town has spent a considerable amount of time and money studying what to do with our out-of-date Police Headquarters. The building is in deplorable condition, the result of many years of tight budgets. I feel strongly that the building is in a perfect location for a police facility, given its high elevation and its proximity to the center of Town.  Demolishing the existing building and replacing it with a new building would be extremely expensive.  A more fiscally prudent solution is to renovate the current building, and expand the footprint of the building without sacrificing existing parking areas.  According to the last study conducted, this could be accomplished at a cost which is 20% of what a new building would be.  At the same time, this solution would satisfy the Department’s needs for 25-30 years, including a central dispatch operation for police, fire and EMS services.