Chief Riello Outlines Impact of Budget Cuts
By: Christopher Kazarian
At the Falmouth Police Department, a perfect storm of events has occurred during the last few months that will lead to a visible difference in how public safety is handled in town this summer.
Officers will no longer use bicycles or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) as part of their regularly scheduled patrols, and walking beats on Main Street have been eliminated. Additional police coverage in Woods Hole as well as on the bike path have been scrapped this year.
This comes at a time when the police department budget has been reduced by $750,000 in the past year and staff has been reduced by 18 officers: three officers have been deployed overseas; 10 have been injured in the line of duty; and five have been eliminated from the budget.
The situation has been compounded by half of the staff having their salaries cuts, thanks to the state’s unwillingness to cover its portion of the Quinn Bill, an educational incentive that boosts pay wages for officers who have continued their schooling past high school.
On Monday night Falmouth Police Chief Anthony J. Riello painted a gloomy picture to selectmen of the atmosphere clouding his department. Throughout his quarterly report to the board, he referenced a memo that he had created and given to his officers during their daily roll call.
Chief Riello said he addressed his officers initially, explaining to them several changes that will be implemented as a way to deal with the economic impacts of the recession. “Many of these changes are contrary to our mission, but are necessary, given the critical shortages we are experiencing,” he said.
With fewer staff, Chief Riello said there is a concerted effort to get those who are injured back in the line of duty as soon as possible. However, he said, there are at least five of them who will require long-term rehabilitation and perhaps lead to retirement for some.
“If they cannot come back, they will need to retire,” he said.
Combined with less funding, he said his department has had to adapt its mission, focusing on 911 emergency calls and non-emergency calls for service. Calls will have to be prioritized, he said, with officers responding to the more serious crimes.
For less serious incidents, residents will have to come to the police station to file a complaint or report certain crimes, he said.
Chief Riello said he has had to reassign several officers in response to the challenges facing his department, with School Resource Officer Andrew T. Loewen moving to the midnight patrol shift.
The detectives unit will be downsized, with one moving to patrol, another becoming an acting sergeant, and a third serving as a court officer.
A drug investigator, he said, will be assigned detective duties in addition to drug investigations. A second drug investigator, he said, will become a patrol officer.
Chief Riello raised serious concerns about officer burnout caused by mandatory overtime. To ensure this does not happen, he said, the number of officers on the street at any one time will be cut.
If he did not do this, he said, officers would break down and there is a greater chance they would get sick. “We have to keep officers as fresh as we can,” he said.
In an effort to maintain morale, Chief Riello said he would not use his authority to have officers reschedule or cancel their vacations although he can do that. “I told them I would not do that this summer,” he said, adding that this will mean at various points during the next few months there will be fewer officers on the street.
His goal over the summer was to have his staff be as proactive as possible, noting that if two cruisers are at the scene of an accident and another two are responding to a domestic violence incident, it could leave the department with no coverage elsewhere.
As a result, he said, officers will always have to be cognizant of their location and determine where they are most needed at any given time.
“With eight or nine people on a shift, it can help us work in high crime areas, but right now we are severely limited essentially because of the numbers,” he said.
He urged residents to be proactive, as his department relies on their vigilance to report crimes even if his officers may not be able to respond immediately, forcing some to come to the station to report a crime.
The stress being faced by his staff, he said, was only worsened by the cuts to the Quinn Bill incentives, which has meant a five to 12 percent reduction in salary for 33 of his officers.
At Town Meeting in April, some of his officers were prepared to speak on the issue and lobby for Town Meeting members to reinstate the $177,829 that had been trimmed from this portion of the budget. Because of a misunderstanding they did not do so, and when officers asked Town Meeting members to reconsider later on in the night, the request was voted down.
“I don’t have to tell you folks this is a perfect storm,” he said. “I know all I’m saying is gloom and doom. Are we running away? No, but we’re not happy about it.”
The challenges, he said, are not new to him, noting that a decade ago the town he formerly served in, Pittsfield, faced similar ones as well.
“It is not good,” he said. “We really need to get it back on track because you will reap the benefits.”
He briefly touched upon the fact that his department has now delayed the replacement of at least five cruisers after voters rejected Question 1 at the polls last month. The cruiser replacement program was not only cut about a year and a half ago, but put on hold since November when Town Meeting failed to approve a request to bring in new vehicles in an effort to take older ones off the road.
“I found a K-car on e-Bay,” he joked. “I thought maybe we could pick a few of those up. No, seriously, I don’t mean to be flip. I don’t mean to sound like a Chicken Little, but I don’t like doing this. If we have to cut again, it will mean layoffs. I don’t know where else to cut because we’ve cut to the bone. I’m not trying to scare the town, but this is the way it is right now.”
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.