There are three fewer police officers patroling the city since the fiscal year began July 1, and Police Chief Keith Mello says it’s beginning to have a tangible effect.
The Board of Aldermen voted to eliminate an officer position from the budget, saving $52,000, and the police union was the only municipal bargaining unit to not accept a wage freeze as part of a new contract, resulting in two positions not being filled this year.
“Being down three positions, there has to be a reduction in some areas,” Mello said.
One popular program being “temporarily discontinued” is the downtown bike patrol, he said.
On weekdays, an officer on a bicycle was downtown to help with pedestrian safety, traffic enforcement and to provide high visibility for businesses.
Mello said the officer also helped provide enhanced safety for the thousands of residents using the train station.
Mello stressed there is still coverage downtown being provided by regular police patrols.
The bike patrol was instituted several years ago at the request of downtown business leaders, who wanted more police presence.
This past year, the downtown officer has written 10,000 tickets, the chief said.
Mello also said this year there may be a marginal increase in the response time for “low-priority calls,” but “high-priority calls will still receive immediate and appropriate response.”
Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. said there are three vacancies in the Police Department, but two of those positions could be filled at any time if the police union agrees to a new two-year contract, which would include a no-wage increase this year, and a 2 percent increase in the second year.
Seven other municipal unions agreed to a similar deal, saving the city about $700,000.
Richetelli said talks between the police union and the city are in the “beginning stages.”
The mayor said he has been in talks with Mello to ensure the three vacant positions will not hurt on public safety.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE Brian McCready