The James City County Police Department had one message for Grove residents who turned out to a community meeting Monday night: Call us.
Several officers — including Acting Chief Brad Rinehimer — attended Monday’s meeting at Little Zion Baptist Church, which attracted dozens of residents from Grove, a neighborhood in the southeastern corner of the county. For more than an hour they briefed the residents and answered questions on topics ranging from gang activity to trash discarded on the sides of streets to acceptable noise levels at night. Throughout the meeting, the officers stressed the importance of two-way communication between citizens and police officers as an effective deterrent to crime.
Jamestown High School Student Resource Officer Ian DeModna said he started recently working a case that made “the hair on my neck go up.” He said he received reports of children with guns and drugs who were threatening anyone who wanted to talk to the police. DeModna asked the people at the meeting to be proactive and contact police to talk about problems.
“You can react all day long to problems, but if you don’t get in front of them, if you don’t reach out and put yourself in front of that community, we’re not going to be able to resolve that problem,” DeModna said.
He said if gang members or other people stop someone from talking to the police then they have benefited. Several people went to the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse last week, he said, to try to stop someone from testifying.
“Apparently the intimidation has been happening for a while,” DeModna said.
The officers encouraged parents to monitor their children’s social media activities and artwork for any imagery or signs of trouble. They also asked for residents to document any potentially gang-related graffiti they find to aid investigating officers. An anonymous tip line is available at 259-5176 for anyone who wants to share information with the police.
DeModna said police are looking at directed patrols to increase police presence in Grove. He recommended churches and community centers come together to give children and teens something to do. He also suggested youth programs, such as a community cleanup, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Cub Scouts and evening sports.
Kelly Saponaro, the department’s crime prevention officer for Grove, encouraged more neighborhoods to come together and form neighborhood watches. She recommended people use services from the department, such as a program where officers will come check on homes when the owners are out of town or come to a home to analyze it for possible security risks. She also brought up the Citizens Police Academy, a 14-week class the department offers to citizens covering a range of topics related to law enforcement. A woman who had attended the academy said it was a valuable experience for her.
Citizens who turned out brought up several issues. Several people who spoke thanked the police for the job they do, with a few encouraging residents to reach out to officers more to open the lines of communication.
One man recommended the county install cameras. He asked for the James City County Board of Supervisors to fund a system of cameras to see “every car, everybody coming in and out of this county.” He said that system would be the best way to protect county residents.
Another man said Whiting Avenue in Grove is turning into a “dump,” with people dropping mattresses, garbage and appliances on the sides of the road. Saporano asked residents to pay attention for license plate numbers as that greatly aids police in investigating crimes like that.
When asked if assistance is available to remove gang graffiti, an officer said no, though he noted the state or county will come out and remove it if it is not dealt with by the property owner.
One woman asked how police handle the mentally ill. Rinehimer mentioned the Crisis Intervention Team training that many officers in the department have undergone. That program is an intensive, weeklong course offering police and other first responders skills to deal with mentally ill people they encounter in the course of their duties. He said he wants to eventually have all of the officers in the department trained in CIT.
A few residents asked questions about the police department. One pointed at each officer and said he would trust them but then said, “The rest of them? Nope.”
“The vast majority of the officers who work in this department are just like us,” Rinehimer said. “They’re all regular people. If you ever feel like your rights are violated, or you’re treated disrespectfully on a traffic stop, you call me and that will stop. Period.”
A black man in the audience said none of the seven to 10 officers in the room — who were all white — looked like him. He said young people need to see officers who look like them and that for the last 10 or 15 years he has not seen anyone who looks like us.
Rinehimer said the department tries hard to hire a diverse pool of officers and that black officers are included in the department.