To what purpose are cops at council meeting?

Posted 9/7/23

When pulled to the side of the road for no apparent reason, Barry Cook says he feels “intimidated” when a uniformed police officer approaches his door with his hand resting on his weapon.

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To what purpose are cops at council meeting?


When pulled to the side of the road for no apparent reason, Barry Cook says he feels “intimidated” when a uniformed police officer approaches his door with his hand resting on his weapon.

Cook doesn’t believe he is alone and says the presence of police officers at City Council meetings has a chilling effect on discourse especially after an officer was instructed to escort Rob Cote from council chambers after barely uttering two sentences during the public comment portion of the July 17 meeting.

Mayor Frank Picozzi and City Council President Steve McAllister are offended by Cook’s characterization of officers at the meeting as “bullies with guns” and defend their presence.

Cook, president of the Warwick Taxpayers Association, questioned the need for the officers at the August meeting and has sent letters to Mayor Frankl Picozzi and City council President Steve McAllister requesting justification for the officers since a retired police officer is serving the role of city sergeant on a voluntary basis. He hasn’t had replies, yet.

The officers have attended the meetings, which are held twice a month with the exception of July and August for the last four or five months.  Prior to that, the presence of police officers was sporadic and in response to controversial issues such as the elimination of school sports to balance of the school budget or a controversial zone change. Police have also been present after council members have received anonymous threating calls, letters or, as happened earlier this year, when McAllister called for a recess following a contentions exchange between members of the public and the council.

No formal request for details

Asked why officers have been at recent meetings and at whose request, Col. Bradford Connor wrote in an email there had been no formal request for a detail.

“Anytime it is anticipated that there will be a large crowd or contentious discussion either myself or Major Sullivan will advise the officer in charge to have an officer “short post” or stop in at the meeting.”

He said that typically this is not a special detail but “a community police officer or the beat car.” He said there is no added cost associated with the presence of the officers and should an emergency come up, they would leave the council to handle the call.

What of Cook’s reasoning that the presence of police has a chilling effect on the audience and could cause them to think twice about speaking publically about issues?

“It is disheartening to think that the mere presence of our uniformed officers would cause some members of the community to believe that their rights under the First Amendment have been infringed upon and that they feel intimidated.  The men and women of the Warwick Police Department are present in all areas of the community; including the schools, charity events, this summer’s Midnight Basketball League, and countless other city events and meetings.  This is the first time we’ve heard anyone express the type of negative opinion that Mr. Cook has posted on his social media platform,” Connor wrote.

Picozzi and McAllister offered similar reasoning.

“We have the best police department in the state and I am proud of how they are a huge part of our community.  I do not agree with Mr. Cook’s position and police officers will continue to be welcome at council meetings,” McAllister wrote.

Picozzi challenged Cook’s claim that he is president of a 175-member association.

“The association is actually a Facebook group with 163 members. There was no discussion or vote on the subject, It’s apparent that Mr. Cook acted on his own. Our police officers are there to protect people’s rights and maintain order,” the mayor wrote.

“A cop out”

Cook called Connor’s statement a “cop out.”

“We’re not going to let this go,” said Cook.  “I feel strongly they shouldn’t be using police as bouncers.”

Cook has had some experience with the matter when running for the East Providence City Council in the mid 1970s.  He said under council rules those seeking to address the council were required to make a request to the City Clerk to be placed on the council docket. He made such a request to speak about a junior high school that was under construction and subject to multiple change orders that were driving up costs. While, per his request, he appeared on the docket when it came time to speak he was told he wasn’t on the docket. He was shown out of the meeting. Cook went on to win a seat on the council.

“Unless there is a known threat they shouldn’t be there,” Cook said of police at the council meeting.

Picozzi offered this perspective on Cook’s action; “He seems to be trying to blame the police for his failure to ‘rally his troops.’ He ran unsuccessfully for the city council last year and has already stated his intention to run again. He obviously has an anti-police platform.”

cops, council, intimidation