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Police chief pares back overnight patrols

Police pare back patrols

By Erica Noonan, Globe Staff, 6/15/2003

By this time next month, Boxborough will have one fewer police officer, raising the question of whether the entire region may be just a little less safe.

As of July 1, Boxborough police will be left with a chief, two sergeants, and six patrol officers. This means that on four out of six overnight shifts a single officer will be assigned to patrol Boxborough's streets.

The effects of a single-officer shift in Boxborough are expected to have a ripple effect on neighboring towns -- especially Acton, Harvard, and Littleton -- which have mutual aid relationships with Boxborough. Police chiefs in those towns said last week they will be closely monitoring Boxborough's dispatch calls, in case an officer there needs backup.

''We don't want to have to rely more on mutual aid, but it appears it's going to happen,'' said Boxborough Police Chief Richard G. Vance.

After Boxborough voters refused to approve a property tax override late last month, Vance was ordered to cut approximately $90,000 -- just more than 10 percent of his proposed annual budget of $870,000.

First, he canceled his annual order for a new cruiser, saving $35,000. The department's six-car fleet, which includes two cruisers with more than 100,000 miles, will rack up even more mileage and risk more wear-and-tear breakdowns. Better to scrimp on equipment and save jobs, Vance figured.

But the overwhelming majority of the department's budget is spent on salaries. Vance decided to eliminate the position held by Officer Matthew A. Furlong, who has been with the department for about a year.

Boxborough, with 4,800 residents, is a place that, according to departmental statistics, registered more animal complaints (125) in 2002 than complaints of rape (1), robbery (4), motor vehicle theft (4), larceny (40), and domestic disturbance (45) combined.

As safe as Boxborough is, relying on one officer to patrol the town during certain shifts worries Vance and his patrol staff. The officer handling a call or a prisoner during a night shift will be unavailable if another, more severe emergency breaks out.

Although many small towns regularly cope with one-officer night shifts, conventional police thinking holds that an officer acting alone is often more vulnerable than an officer with a partner. Most Eastern Massachusetts police departments operate with at least two officers on duty, and discourage their officers from handling a volatile domestic situation, major motor vehicle accident, or arrest unless they have backup.

''This will affect the way we respond to certain situations,'' Vance said. ''This is the chance the town takes.''

One fewer officer in Boxborough is expected to mean a greater reliance on neighboring towns, clustered near the intersection of Route 2 and Interstate 495. Police in those communities already have close working relationships, and the Boxborough reduction will probably tighten that network, said Littleton Police Chief John M. Kelly.

''I am sure they will call us for additional backup because of lack of personnel, and we'll be there to assist. The only time it is not OK is when we are tied up ourselves,'' said Kelly, whose 17-officer force maintains a two-cruiser overnight shift.

Harvard Police Chief William Chase has an even smaller department than Boxborough -- eight officers. Some of his overnight shifts also have just one officer on the streets -- a situation he dislikes and has lobbied town officials to change. Still, he intends to help Boxborough whenever possible, he said.

''But there's no doubt that [cutbacks] affect our ability to respond to calls for mutual aid and our ability to expect mutual aid in return,'' Chase said.

In Acton, Chief Frank J. Widmayer also said his force would do ''whatever it could'' to help Boxborough.

''I think they'll be feeling pressure not to call [their neighbors], worrying that if they are calling us all the time for help, it will be too much of a burden,'' Widmayer said. ''You want to make sure people will be there to help when the big one strikes.''

State Police troopers out of the Leominster barracks can also be relied upon to provide mutual aid, but time and distance can be a problem; if state cruisers are at the far end of a patrol area, several minutes could elapse before they reach Boxborough.

Mutual aid could also be stretched by even greater needs in the region. In the town of Lancaster -- which borders Harvard, Shirley, and Bolton -- Chief Kevin Lamb may have to cut eight of the 10 members of his department if tomorrow's property tax override vote fails. If this happens, the Lancaster Police Department would essentially close down at nights, Lamb said.

''It is absolutely devastating,'' Lamb said. ''We have one of the lowest crime levels in the area now, but criminals know what's going on; they know when you haven't got anyone on the streets. I imagine crime would go sky high.''

Erica Noonan can be reached at [email protected].
 

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bpd145 said:
Police chief pares back overnight patrols

Police pare back patrols

By Erica Noonan, Globe Staff, 6/15/2003

...Boxborough, with 4,800 residents, is a place that, according to departmental statistics, registered more animal complaints (125) in 2002 than complaints of rape (1), robbery (4), motor vehicle theft (4), larceny (40), and domestic disturbance (45) combined...
F*&%ing Media spin :BM:
They HAD to put that little bit in to mention that it's a stick town where nothing happens and they need animal control, not POs. Just the fact that there was even ONE major incident should make it clear that 1 PO on duty is NOT acceptable. Had the globe left this paragraph out, they would have properly conveyed the FACT that losing this officer puts safety (PO and the community) in jeopardy. Instead, they find it necessary to spin things to support the possibility that this may not be a big problem.
ERRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!
-Eric
 

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I just hope that 1 officer stays safe and I dont just mean from foul play from another person who may shoot, stab, club, kick him ect.. I also mean I hope this 1 officer does not fall, have a heart attack, get into an accident ect.. because he will have no one with him to check up on him. I smell a law suit. On any shift there should be at least two officers on duty and if possible three.
 
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