2021 Police annual report
Police Chief Matt Moynihan presented his 2021 annual report to the Town Council, providing statistics and data that some of the community has been eagerly awaiting.
Moynihan began by telling the council that his “critical tasks” for his first year were to assess the department, establish goals, identify challenges, and make improvements. In assessing the department, he said he focused on performance, personnel and staffing, facilities and equipment, and the public’s perception of the department.
The goals established include to provide high-quality, highly visible public safety services, improve traffic safety, enforce moped ordinances, deter underage drinking, curb open container violations, and to better collaborate and communicate with the community.
The challenges identified by the chief include Block Island’s “anything goes” reputation, the low expectation of enforcement, chronic understaffing and low morale, poor communication, infrastructure and equipment needs, and off-season issues.
Moynihan told the council that “changing the narrative” about Block Island will improve things on the island from a public safety standpoint. He spoke of creating an “atmosphere where enforcement is expected,” which “deters bad behavior.” Moynihan explained that enforcement is a range of actions, including educational moments and warnings, as well as citations and arrests.
Moynihan presented the enforcement data to the council, beginning with parking tickets. There were 555 parking tickets issued, up from 2020 but below the number written in 2019. This past year had the highest rate of payment, however, with 86 percent of the tickets having been paid.
The police department issued 130 motor vehicle violations, again higher than 2020 but slightly below 2019. Moynihan reiterated that this
number does not represent every encounter an officer has, as reminders to buckle up and other warnings are not included in the report.
There were 66 motor vehicle collisions, the lowest number since 2013, according to the report. There was one accident that resulted in a fatality in 2021. Of the 66 motor vehicle collisions, 38 involved mopeds. Of the moped accidents, there were 31 injuries reported, with 28 of those involving a rental moped. By contrast, in 2020 there were 67 accidents involving mopeds.
Looking ahead, Moynihan said he hopes to “smart-size” the department, making it “modern and flexible.” Discussing the unique challenges policing on Block Island has, Moynihan said the police force has to be prepared to serve everyone, whether the ferry brings “10,000 people or 10 people.” The department is on duty 168 hours a week and must be ready to answer calls and dispatch immediately, as “the radio is always on.” Often, there is only one officer on duty, which Moynihan called “unacceptable.”
“There is no circumstance where having only one officer on duty is safe,” Moynihan said. He said the department needed to be “nimble” and “mission focused” to meet the needs of the island. There were 4,809 calls for service, up by almost 1,000 calls over 2020, and roughly double the number of calls from just five years ago. Moynihan pointed out that the department still had the same staffing structure for dispatch as five years ago, but now has twice as many calls.
While the summer visitors account for more calls than residents, according to Moynihan, the department received 777 calls in October, November, and December last year, a 90 percent increase over the same months in 2017.
Moynihan also discussed the challenges in recruiting full-time officers, with housing shortages and fewer opportunities for overtime pay and advancement than one could find on the mainland. Additionally, he said that changes in standards at the state level will not allow
him to hire seasonal officers in the same way as years past. The state standards have changed to require re-certification with the Rhode Island Police Officers Commission on Standards and Training (POST), whenever an officer changes police departments. Moynihan said it was part of an initiative to reduce the ability of an officer that might be in trouble at one department to simply move over to a different department. Consequently, a seasonal-only officer would need recertification every season that they worked, and would lose their certification at the end of the season.
Moynihan proposed a new model of “reserve” officers, drawing on recently retired officers who can more easily get re-certified with New Shoreham. The officers could then work on the island and maintain their certification, with the department providing “berthing” for them on the days they stay over, rather than the officer needing actual full-time housing on the island.
In addition to implementing two officers per shift and transitioning to reserve officers, Moynihan hopes to expand the summer Community Service Officer program. The CSOs helped “set the tone for visitors,” he said. As part of his goal of “proactive community policing,” the CSOs were very visible throughout the summer, and Moynihan said they “exceeded expectations.”
Moynihan also said he hoped to continue promoting safety as a community value, and continue engaging the community and improving communication.