Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Bristol police should become townwide service

Here’s a question for everyone who lives in the Bristol Police District, who are on the hook for funding 90% of the town’s police budget:
If there were a question on the ballot that, if approved, would dissolve the Bristol Police District — effectively eliminating local police — would you vote yes or no?
Note: According to the document that spelled out terms for merging the town and village in the 1990s, people outside the district do not get to vote on such a question.  
Eliminating the police district might not be what we want… But some changes are worth considering.
We’ve heard from taxpayers outside the district and they don’t want to contribute more to fund the police… OK… So, then it’s on us alone, in the district. We can change what we want, and as long as we don’t expand the district, only we get to vote on any changes.
Maybe district voters would do this: make a rule that Bristol PD operate only in the district — that would mean no responses to the high school, the Four Corners or Bartletts, whether minor or major. No patrols and no radar outside the district.
Seems like people outside the district would be fine with this, and some even believe it’s the reality today — but it’s not. BPD already patrols those places and rolls to any major incident outside the district when possible. They do not respond to non-urgent calls outside district.
This geographical restraint on the department might mean we can have a smaller, more affordable, in-town only force… Maybe it could be less “police” than “public safety” department — focused on community policing and liaison with state police, who would do the heavy lifting. Or we could have something in between — a 9-to-5, two-person “Mayberry”-style department. These options might be more affordable — and they might suit Bristol’s need better than the conventional police force we have now.
Maybe we vote to charge more when the town rents our police to work outside the district (yes, those of us in the district pay twice — first to build and operate the force and then again when the town uses tax dollars to rent the police for use outside the district). Instead of the $50/hour paid by the town, maybe we increase the rate to better reflect the true cost of maintaining the force in the first place, which is many times $50/hour. That would seem like a simple change to make.
Right now, when people nationwide are asking, “What do we want policing to look like?” we can ask the same in Bristol, if not for exactly the same reasons. 
We’ve inherited a police mission and budget from the old days, but times are different. Let’s discuss how we get up to date — what we want from policing, what we are prepared to pay, and whether the same money can be spent with better result elsewhere — more child care for local working families, perhaps, or expanded after-school programs for teens? Or maybe it’s just about lowering taxes in the village.
I’d like to talk about having a Bristol Police Department that officially serves and is funded by all the town. If the people outside the district choose not to have this conversation, then we should have it amongst ourselves, in the district.
We live in one of the safest states in the nation and in one of the safest towns in that state. If that doesn’t offer the chance to get creative in how we police ourselves — affordably, binding us together as a community, serving the whole community — then I don’t know what does. Unfortunately, part of our community sees no need for that conversation. So, let’s have it ourselves in the district.
I don’t know the best answer, but if we can form a consensus around one, I’m for that. It just doesn’t seem like the status quo is equitable or sustainable. And it doesn’t seem like the old model of policing is the way forward. The old Town and Village merged years ago. Time for policing to catch up.
John Moyers
Bristol

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