Police, housing advocates and oyster farmers: Falmouth to Falmouth 2
It’s back. Our experimental cross-Atlantic radio collaboration returns for a second episode.
What is Falmouth to Falmouth? In short, it’s a project between two radio stations, linking Cape Cod to Cornwall. Both the stations are in the towns of Falmouth: SourceFM is Falmouth, U.K., and CAI is in Falmouth, U.S.A. Our aim is to draw our communities into lively conversation about shared issues and experiences.
Why these two communities? You do have a lot of questions. And we have answers. Check out our first episode for the story of how this experiment started and why we think it’s important.
So what's new in Episode 2? Two community police officers on opposite sides of the Atlantic compare notes on outreach, guns, racism, and answering mental health calls. Also: What happens to our neighborhoods when essential workers can no longer afford to live in them? And harvesting oysters for a living sounds very different in Cornwall compared to Cape Cod.
And how's this for neat: this same program is airing for the first time today on both stations.
It's an all-new Falmouth to Falmouth: Connecting Cornwall to Cape Cod, featuring three surprising conversations, each a one-on-one between a resident of Cornwall and of Cape Cod.
‘You have the pulse of the community’: From mental health emergencies to drug prevention, a community police officer wears many hats
Sergeant Mike Assad of the Mashpee Police, on Cape Cod, says a good community police officer needs to know their hometown personally. "Get out of the cruiser," he says. "Walk around and just talk to people. Go into businesses and say 'Hi.' You get on a one-to-one name basis with people — that's key."
Another goal? "Solve the little problems before they become the big problems," he says. "Because usually what happens, if you if you let the small problems kind of fester, then they turn into a big fire and just keep spreading."
But as an officer, it's not always easy to know what your role is when you're called to the scene. "It's almost like you have a different hat each day, or you have the hat in the police car. Like, 'A social hat?' There it goes. 'A law enforcement hat?' And we put that on. 'A mental health hat?' I'm going to put that on." And sometimes, he says, it requires more than one at the same time. "'Can I split a hat in half and put it on top? Because I'm wearing both of them right now...'"
Officer Mark Canvin of the Devon & Cornwall Police has been involved in community policing for decades.
"Preventive policing, being that intelligence interface with the community — that's the job I love," he says.
Since the pandemic began, responding to mental health calls and safeguarding at-risk community members has become more than 60 percent of the job. "Increasingly, we're finding that we are the mental health nurses for our communities," he says.
One big question he has for his fellow officer across the Atlantic: why do all U.S. officers carry a firearm, and how does that impact their interactions with the public they serve?
"When I've visited the States," Canvin says, "and have seen police officers bearing arms — you know, I would love to go up and just say, 'Hi, I'm a fellow officer from the U.K.' And then I look at the firearm and think: 'Maybe they're too busy.' I have overcome it, you know, on a couple of occasions. And I'm so glad that I did. But if that happens to me, then that must happen to a regular member of the public. That firearm must have an impact on their relationship with that officer."
Gun control laws in the U.K. mean that Cornwall officers rarely confront an assailant with a gun. "In this country, in this area, we very, very, very seldom see firearms," says Canvin. "And thank heaven that's the case."
"I wish it was like that over here," Assad answers.
"Yeah, I can imagine," says Canvin.
When Housing Becomes Scarce
A single mother loses her long-term rental when the property owner decides to sell, and she discovers there are few-to-no affordable year-round rentals available any more. In response, she starts a Facebook group for others facing the same problem, and the group quickly grows with people needing help and exchanging resources.
That story could be from either Cornwall or Cape Cod — but this particular single mother happens to be in Falmouth, U.K. Her name is Dawn Rudgewick-Brown.
With nowhere to live, she found herself in government-provided temporary emergency shelter. "You suddenly have to have your whole life in one room, and feed two children with a microwave and a mini fridge," she says. "And I felt so alone. I felt I couldn't get the answers that I was looking for... So I thought, I wonder if anybody else actually feels the same? So I put a little post on Facebook."
In eight weeks, the group she started gained almost 300 members.
The pandemic has contributed a lot to the housing crisis in Cornwall, she says, as second-home owners buy properties and prices continue to skyrocket, and short-term rentals proliferate. With affordable housing becoming so scarce, she says, even the local hospital is having difficulty retaining staff — creating a public health dilemma with implications for the entire community.
"I'm not out to change the world," says Rudgewick-Brown. "I just need to make a little bit of difference to people, and provide somewhere that they can reach out and just not feel so alone."
On Cape Cod, workforce advocate Silene Gordon hears many familiar echoes of the housing predicament that Rudgewick-Brown is describing.
One example Gordon points to is a local school district. "They had a couple of openings, and they interviewed candidates. They made offers to teachers, and they were really excited about filling those positions. And then shortly thereafter, the candidates had to withdraw and renege on the commitment because they couldn't find housing."
When schools can't hire teachers because of a lack of housing, the fabric of a community comes into jeopardy. "This particular issue isn't just about where someone lives," Gordon says. "It's about where they work. It's about who their kids go to school with and who they meet. It's about their whole world."
A Tale of Two Oysters
The town of Wellfleet on Cape Cod is renowned for its farmed oysters. For more than two decades, Jim O'Connell has been raising oysters and hard-shell clams here. He's continuously tinkering with his techniques, seeking out new methods and equipment to improve his harvests.
"I love being outside on my farm," he says of his piece of the tidal flats. "I know where everything is: when it went down in the soil, if it was hard shell, where the oysters are, and when I got them. What spawn, what density, what mesh — what everything!"
The booming Wellfleet shellfish-growing industry represents the widespread success of aquaculture in Massachusetts. O'Connell estimates that 80-or-so families are involved with the shellfish industry locally. And the future, he says, looks bright.
"In town here there's some very talented growers that work very hard, and play hard. And I think the future of the generation after me, and probably after them, looks really good. And there's a lot of support for our industry here."
In Falmouth, Cornwall, oystering is continuing much as it has for more than a hundred years, as oystermen go out in sailboats or rowboats to gather naturally occurring oysters. It's a method and way of life that oysterman Les Angell fears may soon become obsolete, as few young people want to follow into the business.
"When I first started, there were 34 sailboats, and now there's about ten on a good day," he says. "I suppose the average age is about 63. That's how bad it is."
While he loves going out to pull up oysters by hand with a "dredge" — a kind of weighted net — Angell admits he doesn't really rate oysters as a tasty meal. "I don't eat them a lot, no. I save them for the rich and famous," he says with a laugh. "I'm not a big fish lover for eating."
O'Connell's amazed response? "Whoa."
Program hosts: Andy Coote and Jennette Barnes
Special production assistance: Eve Zuckoff, Patrick Flanary, and Jennette Barnes
Photo montage: Liz Lerner
Engineering: Simon Neild
Program edited by Steve Junker
Web post by Steve Junker
Produced by Steve Junker and Simon Neild