Selectmen Address Police Staffing Concerns
Mar 01, 2017 02:11AM ● Published by Andrew Sylvia
Dracut Interim Police Chief Neil Oullette.
Dracut is still preparing for a new police chief, but that’s not the only police staffing topic on the minds of town officials.
At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, the topic of the department’s size dominated proceedings, beginning with concerns from Selectman Joseph DiRocco.
DiRocco’s main concern involved the number of officers on patrol at any one time, but he also voiced concerns about efforts to create a second deputy chief position.
Town Manager Jim Duggan told the board that deputy chiefs cannot contractually receive overtime pay, and that paying a larger fixed salary for a deputy chief would have saved thousands of dollars over paying a lieutenant regular overtime.
Additionally, Duggan noted that lieutenants cannot supervise other lieutenants while deputy chiefs can, providing a clearer chain of command within the department.
The deputy chief position comes from a reorganization that also eliminates a lieutenant position while adding two sergeant positions. One of the sergeant positions will fill the role of the lieutenant position related to court duties, with Interim Police Chief Neil Ouellette saying that the sergeant pay grade was more appropriate for that role.
However, Ouellette recommended to the board that the department should aim for another sergeant position to be filled in the future due to a lack of manpower dedicated to implementing evolving policies as well as scheduling issues making oversight difficult during serious critical incidents.
Due to current contractual limitations, at least 12 officers must be off the clock during a 24-hour period, putting Ouellette into a situation where average shifts include somewhere between three and five officers.
“Currently, we’re relying on cell phones and radios for life and death incidents,” said Ouellette. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Duggan told the board that the town is seeking to hire two new officers per year for the next three years to increase the force from its current 40 officers to the state recommended level of 46, but Selectman Tami Dristillaris urged additional hires, fearing turnover in the department could make hiring two officers a year insufficient.
Several members of the board also voiced concerns with the new deputy position coming only weeks before the hiring of a new chief. However, Ouellette also received support from members of the board, citing that the new deputy would have likely been added anyway to come in line with departments from other nearby towns.
“Neil is the current chief, and it’s his decision how to run the department,” said Selectman Alison Hughes.