To promote safe downtown, New London businesses may aid police

New London - A group of downtown business owners have plans to combat the perception of an unsafe downtown by supplementing the police department's budget with their own money.

Diarmuid Hanafin, owner of Hanafin's Irish Pub, envisions the New London Police Foundation as a nonprofit group that holds fundraisers to pay for police training and equipment such as Tasers - perhaps even police dogs. It's not money intended to be added to the police budget, he said, but rather to supplement and enhance it.

"Everyone's of the same mind downtown. We as a group of business owners would be well-served by getting together. Maybe as an organization we could raise enough money to purchase cameras for downtown," Hanafin said. "The sky's the limit, really."

Hanafin said the whittled-down police budget, coupled with an exodus of police officers, has led to fewer patrols past his eight-year-old establishment on State Street and a business he is renovating on Bank Street. Reports of a rape in downtown have also fed into the perception of an unsafe downtown.

Based on the turnout at an organizational meeting last week, Hanafin said he's not the only one interested in the idea.

"The response has been huge from the downtown business owners," he said. "It's a case of only good can come from it."

Former New London Police Capt. Kenneth Edwards brainstormed ideas for the group.

Edwards, who retired in 2007 and now works as an inspector with the chief state's attorney's cold case unit, said he also has a vested interest in the city where he grew up, worked and raised a family.

Edwards said there are several examples of nonprofits aiding police departments, and not only do they raise money, but they also foster a bond between police and the community.

"It helps to give the community a voice," Edwards said. "Where towns are successful is when departments utilize community policing. They start to feel comfortable calling police for service."

Edwards said the goal of the group should be to maintain some consistency in membership and work with the police department to come up with goals and funding priorities. It also helps to take politics out of the equation, he said.

Hanafin agrees and said the group is most definitely independent of the mayor, the police chief and "out of the fray as such."

"It's not a Democratic thing. It's not a Republican thing. It's a downtown New London thing," he said. "We just want people to understand as business owners we want people to feel they're safe."

Spindrift guitar shop general manager John Van Ness said he likes the concept of the group and wants to see more of a police presence downtown - particularly officers out of their cruisers.

"They're trying to do the best they can with what they've got, but what they've got isn't enough," he said.

Hanafin has planned another meeting for later this week and invites business owners to contact him for more details.

And while Hanafin said the police union is behind the effort, he still wants an endorsement of some type from the police department. He hopes for a chat with Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard later this week.

Reichard was not immediately available to comment on Monday.

g.smith@theday.com

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