Lynch discusses police challenges


[/wide]The Wilton League of Women Voters welcomed recently installed Police Chief John Lynch to its annual meeting on June 15, where it also considered the issue of civil discourse.

“We have a role to turn down the rhetoric,” Steering Committee member Heather Wilcauskas said in her introductory remarks on the issue of heated discussion that can take place at town meetings, within the community, and on social media.

“We as an organization support the civility proclamation” endorsed by the Board of Selectmen earlier this year, Wilcauskas said. She added the National League of Women Voters has been working with the National Institute of Civil Discourse to do the same in other towns.

Following lunch at Reiki Asian Bistro, Lynch was introduced and brought members and guests up to speed on the police department’s facility renovation plans.

“The one thing I like best is I like to hear other perspectives. You always get some value out of that,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who’s said the police facility doesn’t need to be renovated.”

He acknowledged the town campus where the town hall, town annex, salt shed, animal shelter, ambulance corps, and police and fire departments are is too crowded. It is also too expensive to buy property, he said.

That means the police department will stay, but there could be other changes. One possibility is to knock down the annex and move personnel to town hall. The idea of moving the first selectman and finance department to Comstock Community Center has been floated. Then, an addition to the police department could be built.

“These are just ideas,” he added.

In the process of designing the police station renovation, “we are going through each and every thing we need,” he said. “If we build a basic facility we can function well.”

The way things are, because the station is too small for the size of the force and their responsibilities, they must move people around to avoid mixing criminal, non-criminal, and juvenile cases. Police also must practice shooting elsewhere because their interior shooting range is no longer usable due to ventilation problems.

Lynch then took questions, and when asked about the biggest issue facing police he referenced a state “push” to make sure departments are not engaged in racial profiling. With each traffic stop officers must write up and submit details.

In-car cameras have made police work more transparent, he said, “because that’s what society expects.”

When asked about the makeup of the department, Lynch noted “we have had a 60% turnover in the last few years.” While most officers have between 20 and 30 years of experience — Lynch himself has been on the force 35 years — there are sergeants who have been with the department fewer than two years. In the past, he said, that was unheard of.

Lynch also gave a shout out to the Community Emergency Response Team, known as CERT. “They are an incredible team and a great asset to us,” he said. “They are known as the best in the state.”

At the League of Women Voters meeting are Steering Committee members, from left, Tina Gardner, Kim Nabulsi, Heather Wilcauskus, Chief Lynch, Karen Birck, and Carole Young-Kleinfeld. — Jeannette Ross photo