A chat with the chief

I talked earlier this afternoon with Police Chief Normand Creapeau Jr. and, I have to say, I found him very charming. You really never know what you’re going to get with a police chief, especially when you’ve thrown a fit on the Internet because you were denied access to the police logs.

But the chief was extremely polite and good-natured, and even passed on his cell phone in case I run into a situation where I absolutely, positively need to talk to him. He says he wants his department to be as transparent as possible in its actions, and I really can’t argue with that.

So, about the logs:

Creapeau absolutely agreed with me about the police logs. He said they should be provided during business hours on request without charge. He said the dispatcher who was on the desk was a part-timer who was likely confused when I asked for them because, as I suspected, they don’t get a lot of requests for it. However, he is going to clarify police log procedure with the people who work the desk to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Also, in regards to the online logs not being up-to-date, he was not aware of that. He freely admitted he’s not the most technically advanced person in the department, but said he would talk to the person who is supposed to be getting the logs online. He’s also going to email me the logs once a week — I don’t at this point plan to publish them on a regular basis (police logs, I think I mentioned, are a PIA. Some parent is always calling up to complain the newspaper “ruined my son’s life, he’s a good kid and made a mistake” for mentioning that he was arrested for drunk driving), but I’ll probably find things to write about in them.

Now. Let’s talk about Mario.

My concern about Mario’s story is that I didn’t have all the information, which is why I kept it brief and asked if anyone had seen the incident. To recap: Mario, the Bella Via Balloon balloonist who is frequently seen floating around the area, landed Thursday morning on Blanchard Street. He says he landed after the bus went by, on the sidewalk, only to have the police, including the chief, show up to yell at him. He’s also had some run-ins with the school department, which apparently gave him permission to launch off their property at one point but has since revoked this.

The chief stressed that he is, in no way, anti-balloon.

“I like balloons,” he said. “When I lived in Rhode Island, I had one almost land in my yard a couple of times.”

The balloon saga for the chief started a few weeks ago, when Mario and his balloon were at the high school. He told the officer he had permission to take off from there, which the school department later said was incorrect. Mario, for his part, says he was under the impression that he was actually on municipal center land and he had asked permission in the municipal center to use the space.

On Thursday morning, police received a call that the balloon was landing on Blanchard Street.

“He was landing, right near a bus stop, with his balloon,” Creapeau said, adding that the company’s “chase” van, which picks up the balloon and passengers, was blocking traffic. “You can’t land a balloon in the middle of the street. You can’t block traffic. And you can’t land in a place unless you have permission — that’s from the FAA.”

Mario maintains that while you can control where a hot air balloon goes up, you can’t really control where it comes down. “When I first started doing this, one crazy morning I ended up in Woodstock, Conn.,” he said.

He does say, however, that he waited to land the balloon until after the school bus had passed.

“He’s getting paid well for this,” the chief said. “He has to obey the law like everyone else. And safety has to be the first concern.”

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