Piedmont residents offered ideas on what's important to them in a new city police chief and in other police matters — from sensitivity to the town's changing demographics to uses for defunct patrol cars — at a sparsely attended town hall meeting Thursday night.
The meeting was called to to solicit ideas from the public about the selection of a new police chief to replace Chief John Hunt, who is retiring today, and to hear other concerns about the Piedmont Police Department.
In the evening's lightest moment, budget advisory committee member Tim Rood noted that the city plans to replace several aging patrol cars, including one that's been parked for weeks at , 29 Wildwood Ave., awaiting a new transmission.
The patrol car's visibility from Grand Avenue probably serves as a deterrent to crime, he said. He suggested, in jest, that the city keep its old cars and "park them around town" to warn off would-be burglars and speeders.
More seriously, Rood and other speakers outlined qualities they think are important in a new police chief and issues they feel the Piedmont Police Department should address.
Here's a sampling of what people had to say:
Several speakers, including Mayor John Chiang, Lois Gordon and Public Safety Committee member Sue Lin, noted that Piedmont's demographics have changed in the past two decades. It's important for a police chief to be sensitive to racial issues, they said.
Aaron Salloway asked whether it's time to explore merging the city's police and fire departments as some other communities have done. He also questioned the amount of overtime pay received by Piedmont police officers. City Administrator Geoffrey Grote explained that the city currently has three sworn officers on long-disability leave and is filling the gap with overtime.
Rick Schiller and Rood both questioned whether the current system of two patrol beats — one above Highland Avenue, one below — is the most appropriate configuration. "Lower Piedmont" (below Highland) has a larger population and is "more accessible," with a higher concentration of propoerty crimes, Rood said.
Lin said it's important for a new police chief to really want to engage with the community, and to find a path that allows community engagement while providing "fair and impartial policing."
A woman speaker (whose name Piedmont Patch didn't catch) said she'd like a police chief who already knows the community. Grote noted that three of the city's last four police chiefs have been promoted from within the Piedmont Police Department.
Vice Mayor Margaret Fujioka urged Piedmont residents to consider volunteering for the PPD's Volunteers in Public Service (VIPS) program. The program has room for 10 to 20 more volunteers, she said. VIPS volunteers do not carry weapons and have no police authority, but act as extra eyes and ears for the department. Their duties have included doing home checks for Piedmont resdients who are on vacation, working in the department's evidence room and patrolling parks. Volunteers must be at least 21 years old. You can learn more about the program on the City of Piedmont website.
Residents who didn't attend the town hall meeting are welcome to submit written comments to City Council, c/o Piedmont City Clerk, 120 Vista Ave., Piedmont, CA 94611 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you think are the major issues facing the Piedmont Police Department today? Tell us in the comments section below.