Blumenthal, Heavey play ‘20 Questions’ with community

Attendees of the 70th annual meeting of the Round Hill Association were in for a treat last week when both Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Greenwich Chief of Police James Heavey took questions on concerns both national and local.

Leslie Lee, president of the association, said the organization was thrilled to focus on topics that the community is interested in hearing about at the May 31 meeting. “We are delighted to have Sen. Blumenthal here tonight because everybody is so interested and concerned about what is taking place or not taking place in Washington,” she said.

Mr. Blumenthal, a Greenwich resident, began by thanking everyone for their “remarkable” commitment to the community but quickly moved on to the heart of the issues he wanted to discuss.

The senator spoke of the difficulty of getting things accomplished in Washington, saying, “The biggest surprise for me as a United States senator is the level of acrimony” found in the government’s decision-making process.

Using his areas of expertise, he said he is continually trying to overcome partisan issues by asking colleagues to join him in promoting efforts he believes to be important.

Soldiers a priority

Preventing the injuries sustained in the war in Afghanistan is one such effort Mr. Blumenthal has addressed. The topic hits close to home, as his son Matthew, a Marine, recently returned from there. According to Mr. Blumenthal, his son’s entire company was lucky enough to return safely to the United States with the exception of one Marine, who had both of his legs amputated below the knee as the result of a roadside bomb.

When Mr. Blumenthal, a former Marine himself, visited Afghanistan recently he said he noticed that many American troops did not have the specific protective gear needed to reduce the severity of injuries soldiers suffer, inspiring him to take up the cause. He says his advocacy on this issue is getting results.

“We now have protective gear that can safeguard or at least shield our troops from some of the worst injuries from these roadside bombs,” he said.

The senator is also on a mission to help young veterans heal from the “invisible wounds,” namely post-traumatic stress, caused by the war.

“We have not yet faced the cost of this war, and the injuries that it has imposed on the young people returning,” he said.

Mr. Blumenthal also directed attention to the importance of work force development and skill training, which, he said, creates more jobs. The problem once again, said Mr. Blumenthal, is that the frequent use of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate requires all 60 members to agree on a proposed policy before it may pass, which has caused unprecedented gridlock and record low approval ratings for Congress.

“We need, in my view, to address the real sense of frustration that Americans rightly feel with Washington, with the Congress and the Senate,” he declared.

Afghanistan withdrawal

Following Mr. Blumenthal’s speech was an interactive question and answer period with the audience.

When asked about foreign policies and nation building in countries similar to Afghanistan, the senator told the audience that the government should not, in his view, put ground troops in Syria, Egypt or countries of similar status, though there are others in the Senate who disagree.

Simply put, he said, “We should be out of Afghanistan. We should be out for the sake of our economy, for the sake of the men and women who are there, and we will get out.”

However, withdrawing is no easy task.

“We have learned something from Afghanistan. We need to recognize that we have to set the timeline, we have to set the deadline there and learn a lesson from both Iraq and Afghanistan that American troops on the ground cannot be approached in the same way as we did there,” Mr. Blumenthal said.

Audience concerns

Greenwich resident Norma Bartol had a different kind of interaction with Mr. Blumenthal. “Senator, this is not exactly a question. It’s just a heartfelt thank-you to you for saving Fishers Island where I spend my summers. I also thank you for all of the other wonderful things you’ve done,” Ms. Bartol said.

Mr. Blumenthal went on to discuss Long Island Sound, part of which is owned by the state of Connecticut. The senator has made a proposal that the federal government declare the Sound a marine sanctuary, thereby protecting and preserving the area.

“We need to set some ground rules for who can use the Sound to prevent industrialization,” he said.

The issue of identity theft was also brought to Mr. Blumenthal’s attention. In reply he said, “One of the great threats to this nation, in my view, is the gradually increasing not so gradual encroachment on privacy.”

The senator said he has made efforts to require better safeguards against such threats, especially in large institutions.

With regard to the state budget, Mr. Blumenthal said he is in full support of having a vote on it. “If there is no vote on a budget, there will be a sequester, which will cut spending across the board,” he said, adding, “but I think there will be a vote.

Once again, said Mr. Blumenthal, issues like passing the budget would be easier if “we could get people together.”

Another resident raised the issue of high taxes, which seem to be driving some Connecticut residents out of the state, she said.

In response, Mr. Blumenthal added a moment of levity by saying, “You’re talking about state taxes? I don’t like paying them.”

But on a more serious note, the senator told residents he’d proposed reduced spending by the federal government and hoped the state would do the same.

Mr. Blumenthal was also asked about the implementation of a clear, more aggressive energy policy. The short-term answer, he said, is natural gas, although he also said he wanted more renewable sources to be explored.

The country “needs an energy policy that emphasizes alternatives and renewables,” he added.

Following the senator was Chief of Police James Heavey, who was praised by Ms. Lee for the department’s active community work and its efforts to reach out to residents.

Chief Heavey spent much of his time playing his own version of “20 Questions” with the audience, testing them on their knowledge of how the Greenwich Police Department protects the town and informing them of the various programs available to residents.

According to Mr. Heavey, the Greenwich Police Department responded to 45,000 unique incidents last year, in addition to 6,300 ambulance calls. One of the most important department initiatives, he said, is preventing drunk driving. There were 109 DWIs in Greenwich in 2011.

“I’d say [that’s] 109 lives saved,” said Chief Heavey.

Youth programs having impact

The chief also discussed the implementation of a school resource officer, or “SRO.” In the past, the police department has responded to roughly 180 calls per school year. Since Greenwich High School has instituted an SRO, however, that number has been cut in half, he explained.

Chief Heavey touched on the Juvenile Review Board, which helps reform youths who have been in trouble with the law. “The worst thing you can do is have somebody think they’re a criminal because we catch them doing something criminal,” he said. The Juvenile Review Board “… gives them a punishment and diversion so they can do something good with their lives and not get in trouble again.”

The Citizens’ Police Academy (CPA) was another special program reviewed by the chief. The CPA is a 10-week program designed for civilians that allow them to observe what police do on a day-to-day basis. Residents accompany police officers as they respond to incidents around the town, sometimes equipped with bullet-proof vests, Mr. Heavey explained. The program provides citizens with a unique exposure to police work, he said.

Despite numerous police programs designed to protect the town, residents must also do their part to keep themselves safe, Chief Heavey warned. He urged residents to lock their unattended cars and to always have home alarm systems turned on.

“You become a target of opportunity if you don’t make an effort to make yourself safer,” he said.

The police department’s new smartphone app was also discussed. To access the app, residents must download “MyPD” to their phone, then search for the town’s police department. The app allows individuals to submit a complaint, commend an officer or share pictures of vandalism, which police will later investigate. One of the key features of the app is the ability to see which roads are blocked during a storm. During the October 2011 snowstorm, the app received more than 10,000 hits from residents checking on power outages and closed roads.

Q&A time

When it was Chief Heavey’s turn to answer questions, a number of topics were raised.

When asked why many officers neglect to use their turn signals, Chief Heavey explained that he often speaks to his officers about following such rules, despite their exemption from them. In a recent discussion with his officers, Mr. Heavey showed them a picture of a police car wrapped around a telephone pole. Whether or not the police are required to adhere to various driving laws, “the rules of physics will not protect us,” he said.

Chief Heavey also answered questions regarding identity theft, parking issues, and speeding in the back country. Essentially, he said, protecting the town is all about having the right cop in the right place at the right time. “The goal is to work smarter, not harder,” he said.

 

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