Solomon safety plan includes more officers, rec programs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – City Council President Michael Solomon said Tuesday he will include another police academy in his first budget if he’s elected mayor later this year, with the goal of expanding a force that is down nearly 100 members since 2002.

Solomon, a member of the council since 2007, made the case for more police officers as part of a larger public safety proposal that promotes more nonviolence training in schools, better opportunities for young people and more organized neighborhood watch groups.

“Once officers go into a neighborhood and they build relationships with businesses and people who live in the neighborhood, people feel comfortable when they know the cop by name,” Solomon told WPRI.com.

Solomon is running in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary against Brett Smiley, Jorge Elorza, Chris Young and Reinaldo Catone. The winner will take on independent Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. and Republican Daniel Harrop in the general election. Incumbent Mayor Angel Taveras is running for governor after one term in office.

Solomon said he didn’t have a precise number in mind for the size of his ideal police force, but acknowledged that because of expected retirements, the city may need two police academies during his first term in office.

There are currently 399 officers in the city, down from 492 in 2002, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare. Around 50 officers are expected to join the force later this year, but it is unknown how many will retire during the same period.

Despite the shrinking police force, Solomon said officers have done a good job reducing crime in Providence. Statistics provided by the public safety office show violent crime, property crime and other crimes such as weapons and drug offenses are all down compared with the same point in 2013. Following a national trend, violent crime in the city dropped 45% between 1991 and 2012, according to Uniform Crime Reports published by the FBI.

Solomon also said ensuring children have proper nonviolence training and recreation opportunities remain a top priority. He said he wants to strengthen the relationship between the nonprofit Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence and the city’s schools. He said he hopes to keep schools and recreation centers open for longer hours, similar to a plan Elorza has proposed.

Solomon said the strength of neighborhood watch programs across Providence vary depending on the neighborhood. He noted that the program in the Elmhurst community that he represents remains very active, but indicated he hopes to expand in other sections of the city. He said he will also continue to uphold the current police department policy against stop-and-frisk policing and indicated he opposes the federal Secure Communities program, which connects local law enforcement agencies with immigration enforcement.

“There is no silver bullet, but if we work together, we can reduce crime,” Solomon said.

Although he stopped short of promising to retain Police Chief Hugh Clements, he praised the work of the department in recent years. He also indicated that he likes the Clements came through the ranks as an officer before earning the department’s top job.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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