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    Local Columns
    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Hushing up Block Island crime

    A view of part of the Block Island Wind Farm, with the southeastern portion of the island to the right. (Tim Martin/The Day)
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    The arrest last week of two men accused in the firing of a Glock pistol off a Block Island ferry bound for New London seemed to me another example of the rowdy, liquor-fueled behavior often typical of the island's high summer season.

    Block Island is one of the few places I know of where it is not all that unusual to encounter staggering drunkenness in broad daylight.

    After all, I can't remember anyone anywhere else being airlifted by a medical rescue helicopter for injuries sustained from falling face-first off a bar stool. That happened at the sprawling Block Island beachfront bar Ballard's in the summer of 2006.

    The summer of 2006 was especially wild, the year a young man, evidently very drunk, jumped or fell from the ferry to Point Judith, R.I. He was rescued. In the same week, Narragansett police arrested seven men after a series of fights broke out on two decks of a mainland-bound ferry from the island.

    It was also the year a 19-year-old from Connecticut, working for the summer on the island, was charged in a spree in which he shot at two island police officers and one state police trooper.

    One of the worst drunken fests occurred when a flash mob, a few thousand strong, showed up at the beachfront on the July Fourth weekend in 2011. The volunteer rescue squad treated 10 young people that day for alcohol poisoning.

    Just this April, the Coast Guard had to reset two buoys off the island after someone shot them full of bullet holes, causing them to sink.

    So in this context, someone firing a Glock off the back of the New London-bound Block Island ferry last week is not all that surprising. But imagine how frightening that was for passengers who couldn't get off the boat.

    What most surprised me, though, when I started to poke into crime on the island, is that the Block Island Times, owned since 2015 by Michael Schroeder, who is caught in a journalism scandal in connection with his fronting for billionaire Sheldon Adelson's purchase of the Las Vegas newspaper, has stopped routinely printing police logs.

    The logs were always a favorite read of mine, chronicling not just arrests but incidents ranging from bike thefts to assaults and sidewalk flashers.

    It was police Chief Vincent Carlone who told me the island newspaper has stopped routinely running the logs.

    He said he asked them to. He said he learned from his time on the Narragansett, R.I., force that he believes the media goes out of its way to "embarrass the living daylights" out of people arrested.

    "It is terrible. I have lobbied (the Block Island Times) about it ... I have to arrest a guy for drinking a beer," he said. "Do we have to doubly embarrass him?"

    "This is a nice community, and I've made that representation to them," the chief said. "They have apparently agreed at some level."

    Indeed, when you type police logs into the weekly newspaper's website, the last one that comes up is from 2006, when logs appeared with great regularity.

    I got Lars Trodson, editor of the weekly paper, on the phone last week and he quickly hustled me off the line once I got out my question about the disappearance of police logs, saying he was two minutes away from deadline.

    He never called me back, but he did call Chief Carlone, who told me Trodson reported to him what I was working on. I guess islanders stick together.

    It is remarkable to find a community newspaper that doesn't routinely report police investigations and arrests, no matter how trivial, especially where the crime-to-population ratio is so high.

    It is especially shocking to know that this turning a blind eye is apparently being done to accommodate a request from the police chief in the name of saving lawbreakers embarrassment.

    This is cheating island residents of the thorough and unbiased reporting they need and deserve.

    When I asked the police dispatcher on Block Island whether I could come in to look at the police arrest log, she told me absolutely not. Carlone confirmed this. He said any review of arrest records would have to be done through him.

    He also confirmed that his department, like many in Connecticut and Rhode Island, does not report arrests and crime incidents on its Facebook page.

    The chief also told me it's been an "absolutely peaceful" summer this year, that all those rowdy drunken incidents are in the past, that it is now a quiet family destination.

    No one drives drunk or even litters, he said.

    "It is definitely going in a very good direction from where it was 15 years ago," he said.

    But what about the guy charged last week with drunkenly firing a Glock off the back of the ferry, I asked. Well, he answered, that wasn't on the island.

    I had the distinct impression I was on a direct line to the chamber of commerce.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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