The first meeting with community is well attended
By LINDA KELLETT
C-S-E News Staff
ST. JOHNSVILLE — Establishing connections between village residents and local law enforcement officials and fostering citizens’ involvement in their community are among the goals of a community policing initiative recently launched in St. Johnsville.
An inaugural meeting, outlining program objectives and establishing a developing partnership among citizens, school officials, local police and fire department personnel, took place at the Washington Street Comm-unity House Tuesday night, with future meetings expected to take place the second Tuesday of each month.
Each monthly forum, slated to begin at 6 p.m., is open to the public.
All are invited to participate.
With around two dozen people in attendance for the kick-off event, the initiative represents what many hope will be a burgeoning effort to increase community awareness as well as to curb the incidence of early-year larcenies and other recent criminal acts, including trespassing and vandalism incidents at St. Johnsville schools.
District Superintendent Laura Campione, who was present at the meeting with D.H. Robbins Principal Christopher Fatta and Junior/Senior High School Principal Greg Sova, confirmed there were two recent incidents at district buildings.
In each case, community members helped alert police to youths’ late-night presence on district property. St. Johnsville Police Chief Diana Callen said, “This is a small community, so everyone watches out for the good of the community.”
The meeting launching the community policing program follows the recent introduction of foot patrols by local police officials. As Callen noted in mid-June, “By building trust, the community is more willing to help.”
Retired Gloversville Police Officer Mark Mereness, who resides in the village and will be serving as a liaison between a core group of community members and the police department, gave an overview of the program’s basic objectives.
As detailed at the outset of the presentation, he said the community policing initiative is intended to “foster [a] positive relationship between the St. Johnsville Police Department and the citizens of St. Johnsville.”
There are basically five objectives, which are expected to expand and change as core-group members get involved.
In part, the effort is intended to help the public “develop trust and respect” for officers.
Helping residents to understand the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a police officer will hopefully help with that goal.
Mereness noted that many people who watch TV think that police should act like “CSI” investigators when responding to their complaints.
“It doesn’t happen that way,” he said. “I think one of the biggest gaps we have is a lack of knowledge and education between the police department” and public.
Mereness noted bridging that chasm is a “huge goal” of the program.
In order to achieve it, officials plan to let program participants know what a day in the life of a St. Johnsville police officer is like, Mereness said.
“What happens?” he said. “What happens from the moment he comes on duty until he goes off duty? What calls he handles, where he goes, what he looks for, and also what happens when an officer makes an arrest... [I]f we can educate the group here, hopefully they can go out in the community and educate their neighbors and friends — or they can invite them to these meetings, and we can do it.”
The program is also intended to “provide opportunities for citizens to engage in meaningful dialogue with the police department.”
As noted in the outline, department officials will hold ongoing public meetings and strive to “develop a core group of community members who will work with the group liaison [and police]... to address quality of life issues.”
Mereness noted a third objective entails educating citizens about ways of identifying problem areas in the community and addressing those with “viable solutions and resolutions.”
Training, education and awareness are key to accomplishing that objective.
A fourth objective calls for the provision of self-awareness programs for business owners, the elderly, adults and youth of the community. Those programs might take the form of bicycle safety or teen vehicle safety presentations, done in cooperation with the local school or Scout organizations, for example.
Mereness said the teen vehicle safety presentation might entail officers going into the junior/senior high school and telling students what to expect if they get stopped by officers during a traffic stop. “Most adults don’t even know that,” he said.
A fifth objective identified Tuesday is to inform village residents of opportunities that are available to participate in meaningful activities within the community. That would involve fundraising for projects such as the development of a skateboard park, or bike helmet projects, for example.
Mereness said more goals will be established. “We need to establish a core group of people who are willing to put forth the effort, and we do have a police department we should be proud of,” he said.
Individuals present for Tuesday night’s meeting asked questions about sex offender residency notifications/requirements, property maintenance issues, the handling of animal complaints, the withholding of complainants’ identities when police address complaints, and other issues.
One of the community groups absent from Tuesday night’s meeting was business owners. It is hoped that local merchants will get on board during future sessions. Additionally, while the parents of some area youths were present, more are sought.
For more information about the program, contact Callen at the village Police Department.