Roswell Chief of Police Phil Smith answers a question from a resident Tuesday night at a community meeting organized by city councilors to discuss neighborhood safety. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)
Several residents gathered Tuesday night at Roswell High School to meet the city’s new police chief and hear from city leaders about how to make their neighborhoods safer.
City Councilors Jason Perry and Barry Foster organized the Neighborhood Watch meeting. Councilor Savino Sanchez spoke to attendees. Mayor Del Jurney and City Manager Larry Fry also attended.
“It is really exciting to see people out here,” Foster said. “Our police force will do all they can. It takes us. We know who is supposed to be in our neighborhoods or not. We’ve got to know who our neighbors are. We’ve got to protect ourselves.”
Residents asked several questions of Police Chief Phil Smith, who talked about his new plans to strengthen community policing and proactive programs for the city. Neighborhood Watch advisers also shared ideas for residents to become involved in helping [auth] keep their homes and neighborhoods safe.
“We need to work on getting people involved,” Sanchez said. “The reason I’m here, I want the city to change. This is the city of Roswell, not the northside, eastside, south or west. Let’s work together on this and let’s make a difference in this community.”
Perry told residents he believed the community had to start partnering up and doing its job.
“It only takes one to get concerned,” Perry said. “There is something we can do.”
Smith took several questions from attendees who asked about gangs, abandoned houses, drug problems and speeding problems.
He also shared his approach to policing. Smith said he doesn’t think from a policing perspective but from a community perspective. He believes in community policing, he said.
“I want to improve the quality of life,” Smith said. “There’s more expected of the police department. They’re there as a support system. That’s what society expects now. The police department can’t just support crime. Numbers aren’t more important than the quality of life.”
Smith said that the department is still down by 11 officers, but he expects that with pending applications the RPD should be fully staffed quickly. Once up to full staff levels, Smith said the department hopes to implement more proactive community policing.
“I’m not going to play the violin that we don’t have enough men or women to do the job,” Smith said. But he broke down the hours each officer has to respond to each call, explaining the time constraints.
Smith’s future goal, he said, would be to strengthen the department’s presence in neighborhoods and in schools with more school resource officers.
“What’s most important to a community is proactive (policing),” Smith said. “When we get the right number of officers, then you have that time.”
Smith was hired at the beginning of this month, following the retirement of Chief Al Solis. His experience in modern policing techniques includes 27 years as a law enforcement leader. He started as a patrolman at the Salem, N.H., Police Department and became a lieutenant. He was chief of police in Alton, N.H.
Jurney said he thought the gathering was successful and Smith brought energy to his new position to help unite the community.
“This is the first of many for the community to meet the chief and be able to ask the questions they have about crime and express their concerns,” Jurney said. “This is a good beginning of a long-term effort to bring the community together.”
Neighborhood Watch groups around the city exist to allow residents to “become the eyes and ears of the Roswell Police Department,” said Richard Lucero, a Neighborhood Watch adviser for the city.
The city has some 88 neighborhoods involved in the program. They are designed to protect neighborhoods by teaching residents who live in participating areas to become more aware of certain activities.
Anyone interested in the Neighborhood Watch program can call 622-7233 for more information about organizing a group or to pick up signs.