In response to recent , larcenies and assaults that have taken place in the Harris section of Coventry and West Warwick, residents and officials met at the Tuesday night to discuss the formation of a neighborhood crime watch.
Dozens of residents who reside in Coventry, West Warwick or on the line between the two municipalities were joined by Coventry Police Chief Bryan Volpe, Officer Rich Pendola, Town Council President and Vice-President Gary Cote and Kerry McGee, Town Manager Tom Hoover, West Warwick Police Chief Colonel Richard Silva and Ward 2 Town Council Member David Gosselin, Jr. to discuss in an open forum, their concerns and plans for putting a stop to the surge of crime in the area.
Officer Pendola, who patrols the areas in question, coordinated the meeting by sending letters to residents on Mill St., Broad St. and Terrace Ave., advising them to send any information and concerns about neighborhood crime to him via phone or email. Residents provided Officer Pendola with their contact information, allowing him to organize a way to update them with information regarding suspicious activity, vandalism, arrests and crime in the neighborhood.
Chief Volpe asked residents, by a show of hands, how many of them had called the Coventry or West Warwick police departments in the six months and how many had personally spoken to an officer at their home or on the street in the last month. The majority of the group raised their hands for both questions. When asked if they felt that the recent police presence in the area has been appropriate or if it should be increased, many residents agreed that the crime and suspicious activity has significantly slowed down in recent weeks.
"We felt that this was a perfect time for this type of meeting, due to the vandalism, larcenies and pretty vicious assaults that we've all seen recently," said Chief Volpe. "Because of this we've instituted our first line of defense - selective enforcement. We're putting police officers in the area and making contact with people. If there is someone not from the area - we're going to talk to them. If there is a group of kids on the corner - we're going to talk to them," he said.
Chief Volpe went on to explain that the aim of the program is not to turn the area into a police state, but to provide additional protection and patrols to an area that is in need of both.
Residents were given the opportunity to ask questions about area issues, including the clean-up of trash, broken bottles and dirty needles surrounding the Harris Mill complex and at a bus stop on the corner of Mill and Broad streets. A discarded telephone pole, broken street lights and points of entrance to the abandoned mill were also discussed and officials have promised to take the appropriate steps to fix the problems.
Above all, Officer Pendola and Chief Volpe urged the residents to continue calling the authorities if criminal activity is suspected.
"The people who are living in the area haven't been committing the crimes," said Officer Pendola. "It is the people that come from elsewhere. The only way we're going to get rid of them is if you call us. The more information you give us, the more we can solve this problem. Please don't be afraid or embarrassed to call, that's what we're here for. Nothing is silly, nothing is stupid. Just call."
"You all deserve a safe place to live," said Councilman McGee. "Our police department is well capable of taking care of this with your help."
Chief Volpe also made it very clear that residents should not attempt to take matters into their own hands - a sentiment to which Cote and Officer Pendola agreed.
"I know how tempting it can be to take justice into your own hands," said Cote. "I've seen some of my neighbors get into trouble for crossing that line. It just isn't worth it."
"Let us handle the situations, that's what we get paid to do," said Officer Pendola. "If you cross the line, you could end up with a charge and nothing could happen to them. Just go about it the right way, get as much information as you can and call us."
The officials all agreed that residents should put away their fear of retaliation and not allow the criminals to threaten or intimidate them.
"I understand the fear you have, you just can't let them see it," said Cote. "That will only make them target you more. It's like the old saying - 'Never let them see you sweat.' You guys have to be the kingpins of your neighborhood and take it back. If you do it the right way through the police department, let them do their jobs and supply them with as much information as you can, you will be protected. Be proactive. It can be done. It's been done in other neighborhoods and even in this neighborhood in the past."
Backed by the residents' confirmation that the situation has improved somewhat in recent weeks, Chief Volpe and Officer Pendola insisted that it will continue to get better.
"In the few weeks that we've been stepping up patrols here, it's gotten better, but it's going to take time and it's going to take us working together," said Officer Pendola. "We're making arrests and it's gotten quieter. It is going to work, it just takes time."
"Trust us, it will get better," said Chief Volpe. "Give us some of your patience and some of your faith and trust me, it will work out."
If you live in the area and would like to participate in the crime watch, contact Officer Rich Pendola at RPendola@coventrypd.org.