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By Jeffrey D. Wagner
Special to The Herald News
Posted Jul 31, 2008 @ 04:58 PM
Last update Jul 31, 2008 @ 11:27 PM
Freetown -
The Police Department has written a letter to the United States Department of Justice requesting that one of the conditions of the $125,000 Cops in Schools grant be waived, which would allow the department to use the grant this fiscal year and reinstate one of the two officers who were laid off as a result of budget cuts for fiscal 2009.
At a meeting among town department heads following the failed Proposition 2 ½ override vote from last week, Police Chief Carlton E. Abbott Jr. said the department has to employ 17 full-time officers in order to be eligible for the grant. The June Town Meeting reduced the budget to the point where the department had to lay off two officers.
"The first officer was funded by the town, and the second was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice through the COPS in Schools grant," Abbott wrote in a release. "The police budget was cut at the annual Town Meeting resulting in the lay-off of one (1) Town funded full-time officer."
He said he hopes his letter will highlight the town's financial hardship in having to reduce its Police Department staff.
Abbott explained that by reducing the department to 16 full-time staff members, it then had to go ahead and lay off another officer under the belief that it would not receive the grant money for another officer.
Abbott has explained that the $50,000 the town would have received if voters had approved the override on July 21 would have reinstated these two officers. He said he waited to apply for the waiver because he was awaiting the results of the override vote.
He said if the waiver is granted, the department would be able to reinstate Officer Chad Carvalho, who was laid off at the beginning of this fiscal year.
"I am confident we have submitted an excellent package and petition (to the U.S. Department of Justice)," he told selectmen and the Finance Committee on Monday. "I believe in two or three weeks we will get a response on the waiver, and I hope we will have Chad back. … I am not waving the white flag."
Abbott said the federal grant dispatches an officer to the elementary school when school is in session; and when school is not in session, that officer works in other capacities for the town.
Prompted by questions from both the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen, Abbott said it is likely - with a reduced department of 15 staff members - that there are some shifts in which the town will only have two officers on duty, rather than three. He said if those two officers are responding to an arrest, both officers must be present, which would slow down response time if another emergency call was fielded during that arrest booking process.
He also said during the two-officer shifts, there would be a greater likelihood that the department would have to turn to overtime to cover the shift if an officer called out sick.
Abbott said on Tuesday that the department tries to turn to reserve officers when one officer calls out sick. However, in light of the smaller-manned shifts, the department might be placed in a position in which it turns to the costlier overtime wages.
He also bemoaned the fact that the department paid around $25,000 to $30,000 to train officer Marc Vachon, who will not be returning.
Prompted by discussions, Abbott also warned against cutting from the supplies account in the future to balance the budget, because the department is currently running on reduced supplies. In the past, he said he has had to lay off personnel to meet budget demands because there are no other areas from which he can cut.
He also invited members of the public to stop by the police station if they want to review with him the budget, line item by line item.
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