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By Crystal C. Bozek cbozekatsentinelandenterprise.com and Hillary Chabot hchabotatsentinelandenterprise.com

LEOMINSTER -- Many community leaders applaud Police Chief Peter Roddy for battling rising drug dealing and break-ins in a growing city with a shrinking staff during lean fiscal times.

But some city councilors feel Roddy's hectic schedule -- which takes him out of the city for roughly one week a month -- weakens his ties to the community and his effectiveness as police chief.

"I think it would be healthy for the chief to get more involved in the community, so far as visibility," Ward 5 Councilor Richard Marchand said. "He's a tremendous role model in terms of public safety, and it helps for people to see him."

Roddy is on the executive board of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the Central Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the state homeland security board and the International Associations of Chiefs of Police.

Roddy said if he added up the hours spent outside the city at meetings it would total "at least" five working days a month.

"It's intensive," he said.

He said the meetings bring new crime-fighting techniques and opportunities to Leominster.

Conferences offer him classes on "Fighting crime with forensic science," "Ethical, character-driven leadership" and "What they see when they see you coming."

"You do something here, and you do it in a vacuum," Roddy said. "Here we can learn about uniform improvements, safety improvements and new equipment to see what's out there."

Making an impact?

But Patrolmen's Union President Dan Proietti said while he sees no problem with Roddy going to different conferences or meetings, the impact is less when the new ideas can't be implemented.

"That's fine," he said. "He brings it back and shares it with us. It's just that we're not progressive, in my opinion. ... We have no real training budget or people to do it, so how do we move forward with the new ideas?"

Proietti pointed out how the city has grown in the past 15 years, with new industry and homes, new roads and the hospital.

"Yet we only have enough officers to fill shifts," he said. "It's like we've shrunk while the city has grown."

Roddy said board meetings have been held in Leominster, Braintree, Worcester, or Holyoke.

The meetings are also held in cities across the state. Most do not last all day, Roddy said.

Department morale

Proietti said morale in his department is "almost nonexistent."

"It's pretty low here," he said. "Sure, everyone wants a new building, and staffing is low, but we need to work on finding the real problem."

Councilor at large Dennis Rosa said Roddy faces an uphill battle with low morale.

"He's got a tough department to run. There have always been different unions, and it seems like they have a low morale," Rosa said. "With what he has to work with, I think he's doing a good job."

Marchand said the morale problem might start with the light punishments some criminals receive.

"I strongly believe (police) do not receive enough support from the judicial system. That must foster poor morale when they see people walking who should be incarcerated," Marchand said.

Marchand said Roddy has always stuck up for his department.

"The chief has always been supportive of not only his administrative team but also his officers on the street," Marchand said. "I have never heard him put down anyone of his officers. He always stands by them."

No matter what problems exist in the department, people have nothing but good things to say about Roddy personally.

Proietti called Roddy "a great guy, personally."

Marchand, who went to high school with Roddy, said "he's really focused and he has a big heart."

Freda said he is a "very family-oriented man."

Mazzarella referred to Roddy as "a really nice guy."

"I have the community's best interest at heart," Roddy said. "I live here."

Too much time away?

Marchand said although he appreciates what public safety meetings can add to the community, he wishes Roddy would spend more time here.

"I respect his professional position and service on a state level," Marchand said. "If he's stated that he's out of the community for a week out of the month, it's no wonder he can't get out from under his paperwork."

Roddy said he's able to brainstorm with other Massachusetts chiefs about getting state and federal grant money, more training for officers and upcoming state or federal bills that could affect Leominster laws.

"You can discuss things with other executives. You can discuss issues on your plate," Roddy said.

Roddy said he does attend meetings of several local groups, such as the Traffic Advisory Board, the Development Review Board and other community meetings.

The chief is also in contact with Mayor Dean Mazzarella every day to ensure he is working on community issues.

"We correspond in some way, shape or form on a daily basis," Roddy said.

Marchand said a human touch in the community would help.

"I wish he would make it part of his daily routine to go to the Senior Center or schools, where he can hear firsthand about the safety concerns," Marchand said.

Roddy attended a community meeting for Ward 5 residents on Labor Day that was useful for constituents, Marchand said.

Marchand also said Roddy always stays in touch when needed.

Roddy said the neighborhood meetings are helpful for the police department and the residents.

"A lot of times we can dispel false assumptions. Things don't happen like they see on TV. Dealing with problems like drug dealing -- that takes time. We get people who call and say, 'You're not doing anything,'" Roddy said. "It's frustrating for the public, so (the meeting) gives us an opportunity to explain what we do."

Roddy will start his 17th year as chief in July.

"There's something new every day -- it's certainly not mundane," Roddy said during an interview with the Sentinel & Enterprise.

The chief made $105,639 in fiscal year 2003 and receives 15 sick days, 11 holidays, and five weeks of vacation.

He usually comes in to work at 8:30 a.m. and checks in with the officer in charge about any incidents in the last night.

Roddy then spends much of the morning poring through e-mail and mail searching for federal and state grants for the department, handling complaints forwarded from the mayor's office, putting together the department's annual report and dealing with union grievances.

Mazzarella, when asked for comment, said he doesn't comment on a department head's performance to the media anymore.

"Too many misunderstandings," he said.

A job for life?

The mayor did say once a police chief has the position, it's his for life -- or until he wants to leave.

"We've had, like, 18 mayors and only four police chiefs," Mazzarella said. "No police chief has ever been removed. ... Civil service still hasn't changed the rules yet."

Mazzarella said a police chief should be a leader in the community and stay in touch with the media.

"They have to be visionaries," he said. "They have to be out there leading."

He did not comment on whether Roddy follows that job description.

"I never have to worry about ethics with him," Mazzarella said. "He's always been good with that aspect, and doesn't take it from his men."

Mazzarella, who's a former police officer, worked under Roddy before becoming mayor.

Roddy feels his work as chief has brought better training to the department that results in a safer community.

"Our training has improved, and our selection process has improved," Roddy said. "The ability to be able to affect the standard of living in the community -- I'm in a position where we can work toward that aim."

The chief said he's content with his job.

When he looks back at his years of service, he can't name any specific accomplishments he is proud of or any future goals.

"That would be hard for me to say," he said curtly.

He just wants to leave a trusted police force behind.

"When I leave this department, I want to leave a department which is well-respected by the community -- that's the best thing you could hope for," Roddy said. "I'm in it for the long run. I've had other opportunities I've been approached on, but frankly, I've got a great group of people and there's enough challenges here. I'm certainly not bored."

Roddy has pondered his future after the department, but not too seriously.

"I'll make calendars," he joked of retired life.

Not enough cops?

Roddy said one of his biggest battles as chief is dealing with an understaffed department during a time of significant growth in the city.

"There's a lot of frustration, playing catch-up with the budget or our personnel," Roddy said. "The guys get frustrated working a lot of hours."

Ward 1 Councilor David Rowlands, who is ending his first year as a councilor, agreed the department is understaffed.

"I think the issue is staffing now," Rowlands said.

Roddy said staffing is one of the few issues he and Mazzarella don't agree on.

The department now has about 70 employees to police a 43,000-population city.

"Personnel issues are frustrating," Roddy said about Mazzarella's recent decision to leave a lieutenant position vacant. "When the economy is bad we get cut, and when the economy is good, (the money) seems to go in other directions. The guys keep sucking it up."

Mazzarella argued that complaints of low staffing at the police department aren't completely accurate.

"We've added a lot. When we got 12 civilian dispatchers, we put all those men on the street," he said. "We haven't laid anyone off, like most departments in the state. ... You have to look at the problems and the changes. You say what's the connection? I say it's more how you use people. Another chief might do it differently."

He added: "When you get someone in here and they've been here for a long time, they keep thinking the solution is more people, and they don't look at other reasons. ... The chances are even more people won't solve the problems."

Marchand lauded the chief for his hard work, commitment to the community and ability to do more with less.

"One of the ongoing battles has not been his ability to enforce public safety, it's been the lack of staffing they need to do the job they are capable of doing. The police department is grossly understaffed to meet today's needs ," Marchand said. "From an administrative point of view, I would give the chief an A-plus."

Roddy said he tries to make do with what he has.

"I think the department is trusted in the community," Roddy said. "We are always looking for ways to improve our services. How do you make the most of what you're given?"

Marchand said he understands the city is operating during lean times, but pointed to increased criminal activity.

"The audacity -- for a young man to rob a bank in downtown Leominster less than 50 yards from the police station," Marchand said. "There's a lot more going on in the city."
 

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I can only say good things about Chief Roddy. Having known this man for about 7 years and having the oppurtunity to work along side hime during narcotic s raids and investigations as well as him being a huge supporter of The North Worcester County Narcotics Task Force and also A great cop I say hats off to him. I don't think there are many citys his size that are still hiring and not laying off cops.
 
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