Police Commission Updated On New Building, Discuss Hattertown Traffic Concerns
The Board of Police Commissioners discussed the police department’s move into its new headquarters and began a discussion of traffic concerns for the Historical Hattertown District during its latest meeting.
Conducted remotely due to COVID-19 concerns, the December 1 meeting also included discussion of the local police department’s continued pandemic policies and ongoing training.
There was no public participation.
In his opening remarks, Police Chief James Viadero said Daniel McAnaspie, a detective with Newtown Police Department, has been named the permanent president of Newtown Police Union. McAnaspie had been serving in a temporary basis after Officer Leonard Penna stepped down a few months ago.
The chief also mentioned his hope to return to in-person meetings with the commission now that the department is all but fully moved into its new headquarters at 194 South Main Street. There is “unfortunately a real uptick in cases in Connecticut” of COVID-19, he pointed out, which meant keeping this week’s meeting remote.
He thanked the commission members for attending the recent ribbon cutting at the new headquarters, held November 7. The commission was well represented during the public event.
“I want to thank you all for that,” Viadero said.
The transition from 3 Main Street, the former headquarters, to the new location began two days after the ribbon cutting, the chief reported. Patrol operations began from the new location on November 20. Work has been “nonstop, getting IT set up and moving people over, office by office,” he said.
The Records Division began moving over on November 25, and was completed a few hours before this week’s meeting.
“We’re going to begin taking the public in, through our front lobby, for our Records Division through phones that are operational,” he said. Likewise, if someone goes into the lobby in need of police services, a second operational phone will connect those visitors to dispatch.
“When they pick it up, it goes right to dispatch, and we’ll dispatch a police officer to the lobby here or the lobby up there,” he said, referring to 3 Main Street, where some operations continue.
Staff will continue to utilize the former headquarters, he said, for processing arrestees until the booking facility at the new location is ready.
“If we have somebody that we arrest, we’ll process them at 3 Main Street,” he told the board. “If we can’t release them on a bond or a promise to appear, we’ll house them down here until long-term housing” is available.
The transition overall is going “very well,” he said. “The building is 99 percent done. We’re still working on some small issues, with a punch list, and getting ourselves up operationally and as far as getting our officers acclimated to the new facility.”
Viadero also talked for a few minutes about COVID-19 and how it has been impacting his department in recent weeks and months.
“Over the course of the last month, we’ve had eight or nine officers that were out for a length of time between 3 and 14 days on quarantines due to exposures,” he said. All staff members are being very cautious, following every CDC protocol, he added. As of last week, all members had returned to work. Earlier Tuesday, however, one officer reported symptoms, so that person is now out on a 14-day quarantine, Viadero reported.
“We don’t want to see a spread like we’ve seen in other departments,” said the chief. “We’re coping with this on a day-to-day basis.”
The chief said there is an effort to keep everything clean, including deep cleanings in the building “multiple times each week.” Officers are masking up all the time, whether in their headquarters or their cruisers, he said.
“The officers are using the protocols,” he said.
In response to a question from Commissioner Scott Cicciari, Viadero said there is currently no scheduled testing for first responders. A testing site in New Haven that was dedicated to first responders on certain days each week had closed when case numbers began diminishing, the chief said. Those facilities, including one in town, are starting to reopen again, he noted.
The department is not testing everyone regularly, he said. It is following CDC guidelines, however, he added.
“If we have someone who has had it, or is exposed, we’re following those guidelines,” he said.
Viadero called the idea of testing without symptoms “a false sense of security.
“You can test on a regular basis, but the minute you walk out with a negative test, you could be exposed.”
The pandemic has impacted the department financially.
“We’re hiring personnel, but if we get down to minimum staffing and then we lose somebody because of a quarantine, we’ll have to fill that position with overtime,” he explained. “It’s impacted us there, and with some of our staffing levels.
“But we’re making do,” he added. “I think we’re doing good.”
COVID-19 case numbers in Newtown are ticking up again, but Viadero said he has been in touch with contemporaries in lower Fairfield County whose departments have had double digit absences due to COVID-19 cases. Newtown has a reporting system in place, he said. If anyone exhibits any symptoms, they are to report to a supervisor, who then makes a determination based on protocols and in consultation with the Health Director, he said.
“Knock on wood, it’s been working so far,” he added.
Meanwhile, with more people returning to work and other everyday activities, local police officers are seeing an increase in activity, the chief further noted. Officers are responding to more accidents and other calls.
With the pandemic becoming so prolonged, Viadero said, “there are more mental health issues, more mental health concerns.
“There are more drug calls, and family disputes within homes,” he said. “That’s something our officers are responding to on a regular basis.”
Officers will be on duty for two planned events in upcoming weeks, he said. The trees at Ram Pasture will be lit for the first time on Friday night, and the public is invited to walk around the area. Then on December 12 and 13, a special event at Fairfield Hills is also calling for additional police to be on site.
While most of the department’s training is still being done virtually — “The technology in the new building is making that a lot easier,” the chief said — annual firearms qualifications were done, outdoors, during the past two weeks.
Historic District Traffic
According to the minutes of the November 19 Hattertown Historic District Commission (HHDC), who also met via Zoom, a discussion concerning “several topics of concern with traffic and road signage and safety” was part of that meeting.
Members of HHDC voiced concerns over the number and size of trucks that travel through the historic district. They noted danger due to the size of the trucks, including vibrations caused by such vehicles that can cause damage to historic stone foundations of buildings and walls.
The discussion noted that while signs in the area announce Hattertown Road as a No Thru Trucks roadway, many large vehicles nevertheless use the road when traveling from Bethel to Monroe and beyond.
Safety concerns surrounding the Hattertown Green were also voiced.
“The stop signs at the green often ignored, cars roll through,” the minutes stated in part. HHDC members would like to see additional and/or more visible stop signs for that parcel.
Hattertown Road is a nearly four-mile-long road that runs along the west-southwestern area of town. It stretches from an intersection with Dodgingtown Road, less than one mile east of the Bethel town line, to the Monroe town line. The historic district includes properties along the four roads that meet at the green: Hattertown, Castle Meadow, and Hi Barlow roads, and Aunt Park Lane. All are two-lane residential roads.
Tuesday evening, some police commission members were surprised to hear that tractor-trailer trucks even went through that area.
“Eighteen-wheelers are going through that area because their GPS and Waze [app] take them that way,” Viadero said. Poverty Hollow Road also sees increased use when traffic issues arise, he said.
While noting that such concerns predated his arrival as chief, Viadero also said he is going to have traffic officers begin a study to determine what can be done to improve the area. He plans to speak with Public Works Director Fred Hurley, to see what “constructive improvements” can be done within a few months.
While pointing out that trucks that have business in that area cannot be banned from using the local roads, “we are seeing an increase” overall, he said.
For that reason, traffic counts will be done. One of the department’s speed trailers will also make an appearance during the study period.
Commissioner Neil Chaudhary mentioned seeing an electronic speed sign along a section of Hattertown Road in neighboring Monroe.
“They must be having similar complaints,” he said.
Viadero agreed, and said he would be reaching out to confer with the neighboring police chief to discuss the concerns and coordinate efforts.
“It’s definitely a valid complaint, and we’re going to take a good look at it,” Viadero said.
Chaudhary also noted that southbound traffic on Hattertown Road at the Castle Meadow Road intersection, east of the green, “does not have a stop sign, where everybody else does.”
Viadero agreed, saying the Hattertown intersection is comparable to the three-way intersection at Glover Avenue and Queen Street in the center of town. Traffic traveling on Glover is regulated by a stop sign. Northbound Queen Street traffic is also regulated by a stop sign. Southbound Queen Street traffic, however, is not regulated.
“It’s kind of confusing there,” Viadero admitted.
Recent paving efforts helped the busy roadway, but striping needs to be done as soon as possible, he and commissioners agreed.
Additional stop signs and stop bars are also possible for the Hattertown area, which is further challenging for drivers due to a lack of street lights, Viadero noted.
“We’re going to take a real good look at it,” he said.
Special Meeting Planned
Also on Tuesday, the commission scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, December 9.
That meeting will be the commissioners taking their first look at candidates vying for one current and two upcoming openings in the police department. Detective Joseph Joudy retired in June, leaving one opening. Viadero said he knows of two additional openings that will be coming.
With the meeting to concern personnel matters, it will be conducted in executive session. The public will not be allowed into the meeting, which the group is hoping to hold in the conference room of the new police station.
“We should be able to fit in there, with plenty of space between us, and be safe,” Viadero told the board Tuesday evening.
In the closing minutes of the meeting, which ran approximately 30 minutes, the commission also voted on its 2021 meetings schedule.