Police chief notes crimes, arrests; works on public outreach

Ridenhour reflects on 2013

As Stratford police Chief Patrick Ridenhour sat for an interview with The Star on Jan. 23 to look back on 2013, a few statistics were on the top of his mind.

Preliminary numbers for crimes tracked by the state of Connecticut the first half of 2013 show that reported burglaries and motor vehicle thefts have both increased significantly in Stratford. The actual number is not yet being released to media. Burglaries — the illegal entry into a building for the purpose of committing a crime — are up in other towns along the coast also, Ridenhour said. “We want to make people mindful of what is going on and encourage people to call us when they see something suspicious.”

He said residents and businesspeople can help deter burglaries by using and advertising any security systems. Also, he suggests that people not be predictable in their activities.

As the department targets burglaries, it has increased patrols in marked and unmarked cars, detectives are working with other municipal and state agencies, and police are checking with departments of correction to learn who was recently released.

Regarding the jump in reports of motor vehicle thefts in early 2013, Ridenhour said he sometimes sees numbers change when the way crimes are reported changes. For example, he said there could be an increase in reports of stolen cars when actually the cars were not returned by an acquaintance after being loaned to the person. The chief did not know if this is the case now, and he did not venture to say why there might have been more such reports in 2013 than in 2012.

The crimes indexed by the state include motor vehicle accidents and accidents with fatalities, larceny, robbery, serious assault, robbery sexual assault, and homicide. The annual report is expected be released in a couple of months.

Drugs and driving
The burglary and vehicle theft numbers refer to reports of crimes, so increases are negative. When it comes to drugs, the Stratford police track the number of arrests, and an increase there would be a positive in the eyes of law enforcement. Ridenhour reports that there were 110 arrests in Stratford in 2013 compared to 66 arrests in 2012.

Ridenhour re-started a narcotics vice and intelligence unit of the department in early 2012 with a sergeant and one detective. Now, he said, there is a sergeant and two detectives. “Prior to 2012 there was not enough enforcement,” Ridenhour said, considering Stratford’s location between Bridgeport and New Haven.

“I expect to see a spike in the first two years, then hope it levels off and then declines,” the chief said. As the community realizes that police are concentrating on this type of crime, they start to provide more information, he said. “But I don’t want the numbers to continue to increase.”

Motor vehicle violations are also tracked locally. They dropped from 2,000 in 2012 to 1,900 in 2013. The difference could be something like a blizzard keeping cars off the street for the better part of a week, said Ridenhour.

The Stratford Police Department still has two officers dedicated to traffic, the chief said, though they also have administrative duties like organizing the fleet of vehicles, which keep them off the street at times. When the traffic officers are in their vehicles they use radar and investigate serious accidents. They are separate from patrol officers, who have a broader focus when driving around town.
Ridenhour said the department formerly had three traffic officers.

Into the community
Ridenhour said the program of having a police “resource officer” in the two middle schools and the two high schools is “working very, very well.”
“What goes on in schools reflects what goes on in the streets,” and he said the officers pick up information so they can prevent crimes. “The goal is to be part of the faculty and educate kids, informally. Being a security guard is not a main part of job,” said the chief.

The officers are role models, and they gain a sense for what students should be watched or who can be helped, he said.

Law enforcement and public relations go hand in hand, according to the chief. “If we try to pull kids off the streets (into a positive program such as Explorers, boxing or rifle team), we need to get rid of the negative influences from the streets, too,” so the good kids don’t go back to a negative environment.

Those positive programs are part of the Police Activities League. The rifle team has a long record of success in Stratford. The Explorers is going strong by giving kids exposure to law enforcement. A police boxing program for youths, which was started last summer, has about 15 kids participating.

Ridenhour said the department is looking for people from the community to help teach “crossfit” training, so PAL can start an after-school youth program of exercise and mentoring.

These types of reach-out programs reflect the chief’s belief that policing is about “community service above all else.”

The reach-out efforts also help police improve general relations with the members of the public they serve. “There are always people who are wary of police,” said the chief. And when asked about how citizens rate their satisfaction with Stratford police, Ridenhour said, “There is always room for improvement.”

In other external affairs, Ridenhour said one of the issues facing Stratford and his department is “growth.” He mentioned as examples the new Stratford Avenue apartments near Main Street and the expected development of the 77-acre Army Engine Plant. “More people, more traffic,” he said.

[Part 2 of the interview with Chief Ridenhour, which includes some aspects of managing the department and internal affairs, will be in an upcoming issue of The Star.]

Stratford police Chief Patrick Ridenhour at headquarters Jan. 23. Greg Reilly photo.

Stratford police Chief Patrick Ridenhour at headquarters Jan. 23. Greg Reilly photo.

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