Posted on Leave a comment

Council OKs New Panic Buttons For City Hall

The city has three job openings. Application deadline is Jan. 15, 2015.
Warwick City Hall

Warwick, RI – City Councilors approved new ‘panic buttons’ – manual alarms summoning police – for City Hall on Monday night following a heated outburst from a man at the Dec. 8 City Council meeting that Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson later reported to police.

That report led officers to arrest Henry T. Williams Jr., 65, of 69 Julian Road, on Dec. 15, charging him with disruption of a public meeting, said Deputy Chief Michael Babula.

During the meeting, police records state, Williams, apparently upset after Vella-Wilkinson withdrew a resolution for an ordinance on controlling backyard fires, approached the councilwoman, yelled and screamed, and refused to return to his seat during a committee meeting prior to the Dec. 8 council meeting.

Councilwoman Vella-Wilkinson could not be reached for comment on the incident.

Babula said Warwick Police also responded to a complaint about Williams on April 14 when he visited the councilwoman’s home and argued with her husband.

On Tuesday, Councilman Edward Ladouceur, who sponsored the resolution to install three additional panic buttons at city hall (The city clerk already has one at her seat during council meetings) said he was concerned when he heard about Williams’s behavior.

“It was loud and he was pretty aggressive,” Ladouceur said, adding that though he wasn’t present during Williams’s outburst, that incident prompted him to write the resolution.

With the resolution passed, the DPW will be directed to install the three new panic buttons (at a cost of about $600 each) in the offices of the Council Liaison, the Mayor’s office and Council Auditor, Ladouceur said.

“While it’s unfortunate that we have to do it, we have to do it,” the councilman said.

“I think the panic buttons are important and reasonable given all of the activity that occurs in our buildings with council meetings, municipal court and probate court.  They afford a level of ‘protection’ for everyone, including employees and visitors alike,” Councilman Steven Colantuono said. “It is not uncommon to see these devices in other public areas.”

The new precautions coincide with the city posting a regular police presence at Municipal Court hearings, Lacouceur said, though the panic button resolution doesn’t cover it. The councilor said he’s seen outbursts at municipal court hearings that are as troubling to him as the aggressive behavior Williams displayed during the Dec. 8 meeting.

“It does get very concerning,” Lacouceur said about his visits to the court. “We’re one of the only courts in the state that does not have a police officer there.”

When asked what the perceived need for the panic buttons and an increase in police presence mean about everyday civility, Colantuono said he wasn’t certain the issue is civility alone, or even at all — he pointed to hard times for the public in general as a possible cause.

“Many people today are dealing with exceptional stress related to financial issues, job concerns, mental health problems and the like,” he said. “People may react negatively and may point that reaction at what they believe to be the root cause of the stress, for example, government, politicians, employers, to name a few.”

Colantuono said it’s important for people to bear in mind how they expect to be treated, and how they treat others.

Williams pleaded not guilty to one c0unt of disturbance of a public meeting at arraignment in Third District Court on Jan. 5, according to online court records. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Jan. 21.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

This is a test