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Norwich would not need local match to accept $2 million policing grant

Norwich — City officials received some good news last week, when they learned the usual 25% local match has been eliminated this year for the $2 million federal grant the city was awarded in June to hire six new police officers to boost community policing.

City Manager John Salomone and police Chief Patrick Daley learned that the local match was eliminated as part of new federal legislation, removing one major hurdle in the financially strapped city’s decision on whether to accept the grant. Norwich’s local share for the $2,069,204 Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS grant, would have been $517,301.

The City Council Public Safety Committee is expected to discuss the COPS grant proposal at its Aug. 12 meeting, and the council could consider whether to accept the grant at its Aug. 17 meeting.

The grant must pay for six additional police officers over a three-year period — the three-year period starting with the hiring time for each officer. Daley has proposed using the funding to restore the department’s connection with city youth and to boost community policing in targeted neighborhoods of Greeneville, Taftville and downtown.

At a time when a national movement is calling for reducing police presence and removing officers from schools, Daley is hearing support for his plan to devote three of the new officers to youth education. He would work with the city school system to have officers teach students in third, fifth and seventh grade subjects such as traffic safety, water safety, bicycle and scooter safety and drug awareness.

Daley stressed it would not be school resource officers nor a return of the DARE drug awareness program, both eliminated several years ago. But the new officers would work to foster the same lasting relationships between city youth and police the DARE officers earned.

During the early June protests in Norwich against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis beneath the pressed knee of a police officer later charged with murder, Norwich police heard angry complaints from many youths in the crowds of several hundred participants. Young adults, Daley said, who never interacted with city police in schools.

In contrast, the chief said, he saw former DARE officers reconnecting and mingling with older adults who remembered them as students.

“We’re going to make our own curriculum and work with the Board of Ed to carve out some instructional time during the day,” Daley said.

Norwich NAACP branch President Shiela Hayes, a longtime youth advocate, applauded the plan. She said removing the local matching share should make it an easy decision for the City Council to accept the grant. She and other members of the NAACP met with Daley in the aftermath of the Norwich protests to discuss police reforms. Hayes called the COPS grant “an investment in the city’s youth” by fostering improved relations with police in a nonthreatening way.

“This is actually to increase the community policing side,” Hayes said, “and it’s also to put police officers in the schools in an educational capacity. Not as an SRO, not as a disciplinarian and not as an officer. But as an extension to education of youth on basic safety. Safety is another topic we talked about.”

Hayes recommended the city look into a new grant-funded program in the greater Hartford area that would train officers to understand and interact better with youth, young adults and diverse communities.

Daley called the Hartford program “very intriguing” and said Norwich would look at other models when designing the city’s program. “If someone has a program that works, we’ll check it out,” he said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. “We have to do a better job at community engagement. That was loud and clear at the protests.”

Alderman Joseph DeLucia, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said he wants to ensure the new officers would enhance community policing, including traffic control. The committee received complaints in Greeneville about speeding now that streets have been repaved.

“The big piece of this, the really big piece of this, is getting cops out of the cars and talking to people and talking to neighbors.” DeLucia said, “and building relationships with people. That is the biggest deterrent to crime, because you already have built relationships with people in their neighborhoods.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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