Paolino Properties’ Managing Partner, Joe Paolino Jr., was featured in a recent op-ed published in the Providence Journal regarding steps that should be taken to ensure there is a full complement of police officers on the Providence police force at all times to cut down on crime.
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Joseph R. Paolino Jr. served as mayor of Providence from 1984-1991 and was director of the Rhode Island Department of Economic Development from 1991-1994. He is currently managing partner at Paolino Properties.
Providence is facing a crime wave that is consistent with other major cities in America. When thinking about how we got here, there are a number of factors.
First, the pandemic. For nearly 18 months now, we have been dealing with the challenges that come with it. People have been cooped up inside their homes for far too long, something so many of us have never dealt with before in our lifetime.
Second, mental-health challenges. Being stuck indoors for so long is just one of the contributing factors to the mental-health issue. Other issues include working from home, social disruptions, and economic uncertainty.
Third, unemployment. The pandemic saw record unemployment last year. Thankfully, it is rebounding and I’m hopeful it will continue to do so. However, more than 7 million people remain out of work and federal unemployment benefits expire in early September.
Fourth, the respect of enforcing laws that protect our quality of life. I am referring to laws against public urination, people riding ATVs through residential streets, loud music blaring in our neighborhoods creating public nuisances, panhandling, and the homeless sleeping on the steps of Providence City Hall.
And finally, the lack of police officers. Providence is funded for 500 police officers, but the city only has 390 on the payroll right now. When a city like Providence has over 100 vacancies on its police force, it begs for some swift reform.
We’re fortunate a new police academy class will be graduating in November. That will put close to 50 new police officers on the streets. But we also have to remember many men and women are ready to retire which would reduce that 50 down to 20.
What Providence needs to do right now is continue with recruitment and have candidates ready for an additional two to three future police academies starting after the first of the year. Going forward, recruitment should continue and never stop.
But there is also the potential for a golden opportunity to fill many of those vacancies right now. Reaching out to the retirees of the Providence Police Department. They are already trained and know the city well.
When I was mayor of Providence, I helped institute the “75-day rule.” It is similar to the state’s policy which allows a retiree to work up to 75 full days or 150 half days without their pension being suspended. Suspending the rule or changing it to say 12 months would help the police department with staffing issues and we will see a reduction in the crime rate. Retirees wouldn’t have to worry about losing their pension benefits and they would make some extra cash on the side. Sure, it would be a double dip for them but for all the right reasons. Isn’t safety worth it?
Providence is sitting on more than $100 million in federal COVID money and the state has more than $1 billion in COVID money. One of the best ways to spend some of that money is on public safety. Providence wouldn’t even need to worry about providing health benefits as retirees already receive health benefits in their retirement package. By utilizing that federal money, the Providence Police department can also work on hiring counselors and psychologists to help with mental-health issues since it is so prominent in our society right now.
Things won’t get better by sitting on the sidelines hoping for a miracle. But by coming up with a plan to put more boots on the ground, things likely won’t get any worse. There is only one way to find out. We have to try for the better good of us all and the city we all love.
My suggestion to elected officials in Providence is simple: Act now and lead our city to safety.