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New Bedford police officers call in sick

By Associated Press, 4/15/2003 12:03

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) Dozens of police officers have called in sick since Monday afternoon, leaving the city scrambling to fill gaping holes in its patrol shifts.

The police union, which denied an organized sick-out, has opposed station consolidations proposed by the mayor as a cost-cutting measure.

On Monday evening, 21 of 24 patrolmen scheduled for the 4 p.m. to midnight shift called in sick and seven other officers left at mid-shift, claiming sickness.

On Tuesday, eight reported sick on the overnight shift, and 20 called in sick on the day shift, police chief Arthur J. Kelly told the WBSM radio in New Bedford.

''They are reporting they are ill,'' Kelly told The Standard-Times of New Bedford. ''And we will hold them to that. We will require they present medical documentation if they expect to be paid.''

To fill vacancies, Kelly is calling in officers in training and called in off-duty patrolmen and members of the special operations divisions detectives, narcotics officers, etc.

Officer Graciano Pereira, head of the patrolman's union on Tuesday denied there was any sick-out.

''We don't condone that kind of stuff,'' he told WPRO radio in Providence, R.I.

But he added that police weren't happy with consolidations, which he said were imposed unilaterally by the city.

''It's a sad day for the citizens of the city, it's a sad day for the police of the city, but it's a great day for the criminals of the city,'' he said.

Officers are upset with Mayor Frederick Kalisz's plan to move patrol officers from stations in the north and south ends to the main police headquarters and close the stations to the public.

Kalisz says the plan will save $1.1 million from the police budget by cutting down overtime needed to cover minimum manning requirements at all three stations. The city is trying to absorb a $2.3 million cut in local aid.

Officers say eliminating satellite stations will stretch patrol coverage thin in those areas.

On Monday, the shifts from the south end moved to police headquarters. Changes at the north station are set for next week, unless the union wins an injunction it was set to file Tuesday.

The officers have pushed for a union vote to set schedules for the reassigned officers, but the vote hasn't been taken.

Kalisz said the consolidation of patrols has been postponed twice in anticipation of that vote, and each day that passes costs the city money that could be used to avoid layoffs.

As public safety officers, police are prevented by law from striking as other unions do.

Kalisz said he views the ''blue flu'' as a work action, and is calling on the state Labor Relations Board to investigate.

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