Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena doubled down on remarks he made during a Johnston Police promotion ceremony on Aug. 28, saying he would refuse to send mutual aid to communities that decide to defund their police departments.
The movement to defund police departments has accelerated in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers in May. The focus of the initiative is to repurpose funds for education, social and other services.
There hasn’t been overwhelming traction locally, but multiple outlets reported over the summer that the City Council in Providence – which shares a border with Johnston – was considering reallocating money from its police department.
Polisena, a staunch supporter of the JPD, led off the speakers’ portion during Chief Joseph Razza and Deputy Chief Mark Vieira’s promotion ceremony last month with a loud and clear warning to communities that decide to strip funds from their police departments.
He said Johnston would not send mutual aid to neighboring communities that defund the police.
“[I] have absolutely no intentions – let me take my mask down so you can hear me – no intention on ever defunding the Johnston Police,” Polisena said to applause in the Johnston High School auditorium. “These are our men and women who put their lives on the line every single day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I hope that the Johnston citizens realize the importance and know what they do. Obviously they’re the buffer between the good, which is the citizens, and the evil, which is the criminals.”
In a call with the Sun Rise last week, Polisena reiterated this sentiment, saying Johnston would “absolutely not” assist other municipalities if they decided to reallocate funds.
“What happens is if Community A is going to defund the police and they have something where they need help from us, why would I send my officers to Community A, who defunded the police, and it takes away from my citizens?” Polisena said. “Keep in mind, too, I stopped the rescues from going to Providence because it was more or less abusing the mutual aid.”
He referenced a previous conversation with then-Mayor Angel Taveras, asking Providence for compensation or to add another rescue vehicle. When those talks soured, Polisena said he stopped sending rescues.
Polisena touched on Providence briefly, saying their decision is up to Mayor Jorge Elorza and the City Council, but said Johnston would not be “defunding our police department 10 cents.”
“As the public safety commissioner who oversees the police and fire, which I do, I have the right to give an order to the chief and say, by the way, if they defund the Providence Police, or whatever, let’s just say Community A – I don’t want to pick on Providence,” Polisena said. “If Community A decides they’re going to defund their police, we’re not going to be their backup, that’s for damn sure. We’re not going to be their backup.”
Polisena said Johnston has solid relationships with its neighbors, which include Providence, Cranston, North Providence, Smithfield, Scituate and Glocester. He pledged to help any communities in need, as Johnston did during riots in Providence earlier this year.
“If you’re going to defund your police department and you’re going to work with less police officers and then something happens big, you’re going to rely on us,” Polisena said. “Well, it’s just not going to happen. Why should my taxpayers have to pay the burden of Community A because they want to defund their police department – whether they do it legitimately or they do it because it’s politically correct, I don’t know. That’s their business.”
Attorney General Peter Neronha said during the ceremony that “this is not an easy time to be in law enforcement.” He said officers want to provide the public with fast answers, but said those in law enforcement “have to take the time to get it right.”
“To not talk about it, is to ignore what’s staring us right in the face. The difficulty of law enforcement today is getting it right, and moving fast at the same time,” Neronha said during his remarks at the ceremony. “Chief Razza, you will face it, but you are not alone. Your fellow chiefs are there to help and I am here to help you. We will help you navigate those waters to get it right and get it done fast.”
Neronha recalled a story from last winter, when he was working in a small office on the south side of Providence with a police substation down the hallway. He said that, after he finished up, he walked down to their room and checked in.
He said what he saw exemplified the message law enforcement should be sending to the general public.
“As I looked into that room, what did I see? Young people. Men and women, men and women of color, grabbing a quick bite to eat before they went back out on the road on a snowy, slushy night to keep their community safe,” Neronha said. “Our police officers are us. They’re parents. They’re children. They’re friends. And they’re just trying to get it right, and doing a really difficult job.”