Parents packed the Jan. 11 Police Commission budget meeting to plead for Police Chief Michael Spera's request for two new patrol officers. Spera said that he needed the two new officers to permit full-time instead of part-time school resource officers (SRO). But despite parent comments that the commissioners were playing politics with kids' safety, the commission still voted 4 to 2 against adding the new patrolmen.
The commissioners' views were revealed in their questions and comments to the chief in the three hours of budget component discussion and votes.
Among those votes were decisions supporting most of Spera's requested staff and staff-hour additions. The first vote agreed to support "civilianizing" the full-time information technology position now held by sworn officer Sgt. Gardner. This shift would allow Spera to re-capture 16 patrolman shift-hours each week for patrol work. It is these re-captured patrol shift hours that appeared to convince some commissioners the new patrolmen positions (patrolmen 26 and 27) were not needed.
Commissioner David Dunlap said before he voted on the new patrolmen budget item, "We're voting about a staffing model and there are lots of options and priorities to set. I like [the model of] having civilian personnel helping sworn officers. We can do it with 18 sworn officers. If SRO is our priority, how do we adjust our allocation? It's how we prioritize what we do."
Spera responded that "18 people including sergeants works perfectly well...until someone takes a day off. If we were to backfill shifts [with 18 sworn officers], we would need $104,000 in the vacation line. I have $25,000.
"My responsibility is to field a force. The 4/4/3 [shift staffing] model does not include an SRO. The two added positions [patrolman 26 and 27] are to put SROS full-time in the schools," said Spera.
Commissioner Adam Stuart said, "It is possible with a re-alignment you can have two [full-time] SROs in the schools. I don't see the need to hire three new people."
Before voting on the budget component to include two patrolmen in the budget, patrolmen 26 and 27, Police Commission Chair Christina Burnham urged the commissioners to carefully consider their vote.
"It's incumbent upon us to come up with a budget that does what we think we should adopt as the model," said Burnham.
After the vote to add positions failed, she said, "I feel we are not fulfilling our duty to our town based on the gaps we know exist. We're being short-sighted if we don't add at least one position."
After the two new officer positions were denied, the commission moved to other police budget issues. First was to consider whether to add a proposed civilian investigations analyst to free detectives to do sworn officer duties. Second was to add more staff hours to existing administrative and clerical support positions. Both initiatives won commission support and were included in the final budget.
"I clearly need some additional administrative support. We are behind in FOIs from the public, in records requests, in filing," said Spera.
He also said that evidence processing was back-logged by four months.
Spera said that in 2009, he chose to add one sworn officer to the department by taking away a records clerk. In 2009, the department had 21 sworn officers; this year, the department has 25 sworn officers, including full-time IT manager Sgt. Gardner.
The commission adjourned the meeting without finishing its review and action on all of the proposed budget lines. Another meeting to finish the work was set for Jan. 14.
Spera's original police department budget had called for the addition of 2.5 sworn police officers, a new full-time civilian investigations analyst, a seventh dispatcher, and increased staff-hours for the emergency communications directors and other existing civilian positions. The total budget request would have increased department spending by $425,000 or 17 percent over the current year.