RTM To Contemplate Return of Greenwich Police to Direct Traffic on Greenwich Ave

On the Tuesday, Jan 19 RTM agenda, item 9 will be a sense of the meeting resolution about returning Greenwich Police to their “traditional role directing traffic” on Greenwich Ave. (Zoom invitation). The item made its way to the agenda after a petition of 20 registered voters was submitted.

The petitioners noted the presence of police had been an essential part of the town’s character for many decades.

In their explanatory comments (pages 9-11) the petitioners recalled that in January 2019, prior to the pandemic First Selectman Camillo removed from his 2021-2022 budget funding for police to continue directing traffic on Greenwich Avenue. They said the BET then took the rare step of adding the money back, a move ratified by the RTM at their May 2020 meeting.

Nevertheless, the police were kept off duty, the petitioners noted.

Greenwich Police officer directing traffic at intersection with Havemeyer on New Year’s. Photo: Leslie Yager

First Selectman Fred Camillo has initiated moves toward a more pedestrian-oriented Greenwich Ave. The most obvious example is outdoor dining, which was initiated in response to the pandemic, but Camillo hopes to make permanent.

Recently there was a pilot program for valet parking at two locations along Greenwich Avenue.

There is possible trolley system in the works that would shuttle people to the Avenue from remote locations.

Also, there is a major upgrade of the intersection at Elm Street planned for early spring, in which the sidewalks will be widened, or “bumped out,” 4 parking spots removed and replaced with plantings, and the intersection raised to the the height of the sidewalk.

The Dept of Public Works anticipates the effort will calm traffic and subsequently be a model for other Avenue intersections.

The SOMR petitioners argue that removing 4 parking spaces at each of the intersections, in addition to the loss of spaces due to outside dining, will be significant to merchants and shoppers.

The petitioners note the DPW plan for the Elm Street intersection will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and say it won’t solve the problem of pedestrian safety or vehicular safety and flow.

They say the crossing distance is not actually shortened and that pedestrians will still have to cross two lanes of traffic.

Police officer directing traffic at intersection of Elm Street. Photo: Leslie Yager

“The plan is not disability friendly,” the petitioners wrote. “Currently there are gradual ramps going up from the crosswalks to the sidewalks, as there are all over town. Additionally, if you were disabled would you prefer a police officer standing there holding up traffic as he ensures you make it across safely?”

Further they say there is no financial savings in removing police from traffic posts since they are being redeployed elsewhere.

The petitions argue that having police direct traffic on the Avenue makes the town unique and special, that police are invaluable for pedestrian safety and, at minimum, there should be a widespread community discussion before they are removed.

On Sunday Police Chief James Heavey posted a statement on Facebook explaining the rationale for removing police directing traffic on the Avenue.

Heavey, who grew up on Lewis Street said he recalled the Ave being changed to one-way in 1970 to improve traffic flow and officers remained stationed at three intersections.

Greenwich Avenue at Fawcett Place, c1950, Courtesy Greenwich Historical Society.

He said in 2010 his predecessor removed the officer from the intersection at 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,” he wrote, noting that he did assign an officer to the intersection twice a year– during Sidewalk Sales week, the cost of which was reimbursed by the Chamber of Commerce, and the days between Black Friday and New Year.

Heavey said there are no fewer officers on Greenwich Avenue now than when police were assigned to traffic posts.

Rather, they are deployed differently, in response to needs of the community and new trends in crime.

For example, the police department created a team of plain clothed officers called Organized Retail Criminal Activity (ORCA) in 2019 in response to the increase in organized shoplifting, identity theft and misuse of fraudulent or stolen credit cards.

Last year the ORCA team investigated 48 cases, resulting in 41 people being arrested for 65 felonies, 37 misdemeanors and dozens of infractions. Heavey said many of the arrests were tied to major regional cases being investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, and many of the 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,” Heavey wrote.

Further, Heavey said the size of the police force has shrunk from 175 full time officers when he became an officer in 1986 to 152 today, yet police retain a visible presence on the Avenue with both foot and bike patrols. Today, bike patrol benefits from four e-bikes recently donated by a resident.

For example, he said, on News Years’ Eve, an officer was directing traffic at the intersection of Havemeyer Place, and noted officers are empowered to direct traffic whenever they see a need. That same night, officers were patrolling on bicycles in addition to officers working in plain clothes.

Heavey said a vote in favor of the SOMR Tuesday would be a vote of no confidence in the efforts by Greenwich Police “to address emerging crime trends and to align limited police resources with the needs of the community.”

Anyone wishing to provide comments can do so by sending a Citizen’s Comment Program email to the Office of the Chief of Police. 

Greenwich Police officer directing traffic at the intersection of Elm Street before the traffic posts were removed in 2019. Photo: Leslie Yager
Officer directing traffic at the intersection of Greenwich Avenue and Havemeyer. Photo: Leslie Yager

Zoom webinar. When: Jan 19, 2021 08:00 pm Eastern Time (US and Canada) Topic: RTM January 19, 2021 Meeting Please click the link below to join the webinar: https://greenwichct.zoom.us/j/86789772830?pwd=aG9NYTJ3NEs5ME04dDZheUREZDhWQT09

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