The word “community” is indeed interesting.

It actually has several meanings. When you hear “community” you automatically think of Westerly, Stonington, Hopkinton, etc.; but community is also that feeling of fellowship you get with and from other people who share common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Just over a month ago, the City of Westerly swore in a new Chief of Police to replace Shawn Lacey, who now continues to serve Westerly in his new role as City Manager. A few weeks ago, this new chief of police was invited to speak at the Westerly Rotary Club. A number of people in the Rotary club knew him well, but others didn’t. What immediately impressed me was that chef Paul Gingerella didn’t immediately sit down at the table, but instead circled the entire room, shaking hands with those he was familiar with, while taking the time to introduce himself personally to those he did. do not. And either way, he would look each member straight in the eye and ask their name in return. Not something you see a lot these days.

Later, when it was Chief Gingerella’s turn to speak, he began by apologizing…something you’re not really supposed to do in the world of public speaking. He apologized for not being as competent a speaker as the former leader. Turns out it was pointless at all because Chef Gingerella spoke for about 20 minutes from her heart. He talked about growing up in Westerly and never leaving. He spoke lovingly of his family and their interests and of their support, especially when he told them that this new position would require much more of his time away.

Then the chief spoke of community. He did not flatter the crowd when he spoke of his deep affection for the region and its people. This was the real deal, and the real deal for this man is not just protecting citizens and visitors to our community, but going above and beyond creating community collaboration and partnership. .

With the help of four Community Service Officers in addition to the support of a well-trained and committed service, the Chief began to talk about some of the ways his strength engages with the community beyond their primary responsibility to protect and keep safe. Some of these may be familiar to you, others will be new to you, but hopefully you will gain renewed respect for your police force. They have taken full control of the COVID vaccination and testing program, working closely with the state, the health department, the senior center, and all of you. They always have COVID tests available at the police station – call for days and hours. They maintain a database of at-risk citizens, so if you have a family member with dementia or an elderly person who tends to wander, you can record their information to help keep them safe and protected. Many citizens have seen Westerly cops smiling on the holidays as they stuff a cruiser outside Walmart with donated gifts for the kids, and families smiling even wider weeks later when they can drive to the garage at the police station and receive gifts that have been individually chosen for their children based on their age and interests. Community Services Officers run a free child car seat installation program open to all parents to ensure these seats are properly installed in their vehicles as they carry valuable cargo. Fingerprinting services, VIN# checks, a Citizen Police Academy where local residents can enroll and in 12 weeks learn everything their force does regarding domestic violence, crime, driving enforcement in drunkenness, traffic laws, gun safety, etc. And nothing is more popular than the Coffee with a Cop program, a monthly event advertised on Facebook inviting the public to drop in and grab a coffee, ask questions or report concerns to members of their police force. Working with the Rotary Club, Constable Howie Mills runs the safe deposit box program where any resident can request a free safe which is then installed in their home, a combination known only to the police. In the event of an emergency, firefighters and the police will not have to break windows and doors to quickly help the resident.

All of this notwithstanding, I leave today with a burning question: why on earth would anyone consider defunding their community policing?

Why indeed?

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 20 years, including her “In Their Shoes” articles. She can be reached at [email protected] or 401-539-7762.