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Use of regional police team rankles some local cops
By Jill Harmacinski
Staff writer

When a suicidal man barricaded himself in his Danvers home this month, local police called on a little-known regional police team to help.

Forty police officers - from as close as Peabody and as far away as Concord - responded to the scene, some in police cruisers, others in their own cars.

The officers belong to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC, a regional police group that responds to emergencies in member communities. Police departments pay an average of $5,000 a year to join the organization.

More than 40 police departments have done so, including four on the North Shore - Danvers, Peabody, Marblehead and Gloucester. Police officers assigned to the group carry pagers that alert them to emergencies.

Some local officials view NEMLEC as simply another level of protection. "Crime doesn't end at the city borders," Peabody Mayor Michael Bonfanti said.

But critics say the same protection is already provided for free by state police, who have a local headquarters in Danvers and dozens of troopers on the North Shore.

And it means local taxpayers foot the bills not only for the annual membership fee, which differs depending on the size of the community, but for the hours, including overtime, their local police officers work when responding to out-of-town calls.

"Why are townspeople paying for the same services that are already provided by state police for free?" asked David Cortese, secretary of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, the union for state troopers.

Worth the cost?

NEMLEC has been around since 1963, but only recently have North Shore police departments started to join. Danvers signed up two months ago, paying a $5,000 annual membership fee for five of its officers to join, said Danvers Police Capt. Neil Ouellette.

Peabody Chief Robert Champagne was recently elected president of NEMLEC. Peabody joined the group six years ago because it was a "logical" approach to increasing the department's emphasis on community policing, Champagne said.

"The idea of having a force multiplier ... makes great sense to us," he said.

The group provides an array of services to its member communities - access to armored and tactical units, crowd control and accident reconstruction teams, a cyber crime unit, and a school-threat assessment team. Officers who join NEMLEC are trained monthly by the organization at a variety of locations.

NEMLEC is nonprofit, Champagne said, noting that membership fees are used to purchase equipment and offset training costs.

Champagne said membership "entitles you to a lot of things ... and training costs money, no matter where you send officers."

When NEMLEC officers are called out of their own towns and cities, they are usually paid for their work by their own departments. But supporters say the extra protection and training make membership worthwhile.

"I think it's a great investment, and that regional, cooperative effort is really a plus," said Michael Powers, chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Danvers.

Marblehead Police Chief James Carney said he looks at NEMLEC membership as an insurance policy - one the town paid $4,000 for this year. In an emergency, Marblehead could quickly pull 100 police officers into town, he said. Marblehead joined the group last June and has not yet needed NEMLEC's help, Carney said.

Police chiefs in Salem, Ipswich and Lynn say they haven't joined NEMLEC because they can't spare the manpower or the money. Lynn's chief, John Suslak, called the cost and commitment "somewhat daunting."

Wenham pulled out of NEMLEC after one year for financial reasons, Police Chief William McKenzie said. Faced with a tight budget, McKenzie said he couldn't afford to send even one officer to the group training.

"I really would like to stay in," he said, "but I really can't justify spending money on something that's really an insurance policy. It's a nice thing to have if you need it, and hopefully you'll never need it."

State police not happy

Police chiefs who have joined NEMLEC insist the regional police force does not conflict with state police.

"They work hand-in-hand with state police," Carney said. "Especially in this day and age, the more the merrier is my philosophy. I'd rather have too many people helping me than not enough."

During the recent Danvers incident, police called in not only the NEMLEC team, but also two state police crisis negotiators and a state police psychiatrist. The incident ended peacefully.

"There are no egos involved in this," Ouellette said.

But some state troopers are not happy about the growth of NEMLEC and similar groups in southeastern Massachusetts and Boston.

After last Sunday's incident in Danvers, local troopers complained to union officials, according to Cortese.

Troopers assigned to specialty units, such as the state police armored and tactical team, "feel work is being taken away from them by some of these regional units," Cortese said. "We are now examining what action we might take in response to this."

Cortese said he suspects residents are unaware of the liability issues the regional police groups might pose. When officers in NEMLEC are called to an incident, many respond in their personal cars and drive at high speeds, without the benefit of lights and sirens, he said.

"In contrast with us, our troopers are issued cruisers they take to their homes," Cortese said.

According to a spokeswoman for the state police, officials are working cooperatively with the regional police groups and striving to keep the lines of communication open.

When asked if top state police officials have any concerns about the groups, State Police Lt. Sharon Costine said, "We wouldn't make a statement like that. We are trying to work with them."

Jill Harmacinski can be reached at (978) 338-2652 or by email at [email protected].

Salem News December 30, 2004 www.salemnews.com
 
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So lets see.............

It costs $1000 per officer just to belong? Wow. Now I would be curious as to what is the total number of personnel on NEMLEC"s roster?
(1000 x # of Officers=$$$)

Also, I wonder if there is any potential conflict for chain-of-command, like "who's in charge" (remember Al Haig?)
 

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If I remember correctly, NEMLEC's annual fee is based on the size of the department. I don't believe it's as high as $1k / officer though.

Each of the "teams" or "divisions" of NEMLEC is ran by a designated Chief who defines who is in charge of that team, etc, subject to their various committees and the board. See http://www.nemlec.com/about.html for more information.

In an event like the Danvers incident highlighted above the local authority is still in charge...

Hope this helps,
Bryan
 

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I like seeing local officers involved in units like this. My dept still calls the SP's (who all seem like pretty good guys) but as a supervisor I see that it is really hard on my officers' morale when they respond to an incident only to later be relegated to perimeter duty or picking up the troopers coffee (<- just kidding). I'm sure the troopers are thinking that if NEMLEC or MetroStar begin taking what they feel is their work that their budgets will be shorted, but I am thinking that the state has plenty to do already with the many new Homeland Security roles they are claiming.
I certainly don't want to see anyone, officer or civilian, killed because of inflated ego's or lacks in training, but these are our towns and I think it sends a tough message when the bad guys think they have us out classed.
Also, I think responding to these incidents provides local officers with not only an opportunity to develop new skills they can bring back to the PD, but over the course of a 25-30 year career in the same community, a nice break away from their usual duties.
Lastly, I'd like to see a DA with the guts enough to start using local detectives in their investigative units but I think they are way too fearful of SPAM.

I'll take cover now as I await the incoming!
 

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Personally, I feel that the existence of so-called specialized teams degrades the fighting skills of regular officers who often find themselves on the short end of the stick as far as training budgets and equipment. 95% of the time the incidents are over long before anyone, including the STOP team, NEMLEC or METROSTAR have one officer on scene. The "let's do nothing and call the SWAT team" approach can have deadly consequences, like in Columbine when officers surrounded the high school and waited for the SWAT team while the killers continued on their rampage. (The SWAT team took nearly an hour to arrive and assemble) Specialized teams certainly have their place, particularly in barricaded subjects and hostage scenarios, but the proliferation of the specialized teams can lead to an attitude of apathy with many officers. As the teams arrive, regular officers are shuttled off to get coffee and guard the perimeter.
What I feel is needed is a more well-rounded approach with patrol officers equipped with secondary weapons like patrol rifles and/or shotguns and given more extensive training active-killer and ambush scenarios. Most gunfights are over in a matter of minutes (or seconds) and what an officer brings to a situation (whether that be equipment or training) is what is going to be used in a fight. I respect the specialized teams extensive training and dedication, but let's not let the skills of the regular patrol officers decline. Just my opinion......
 

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Piper";p="51015 said:
I like seeing local officers involved in units like this. My dept still calls the SP's (who all seem like pretty good guys) but as a supervisor I see that it is really hard on my officers' morale when they respond to an incident only to later be relegated to perimeter duty or picking up the troopers coffee (<- just kidding). I'm sure the troopers are thinking that if NEMLEC or MetroStar begin taking what they feel is their work that their budgets will be shorted, but I am thinking that the state has plenty to do already with the many new Homeland Security roles they are claiming.
I certainly don't want to see anyone, officer or civilian, killed because of inflated ego's or lacks in training, but these are our towns and I think it sends a tough message when the bad guys think they have us out classed.
Also, I think responding to these incidents provides local officers with not only an opportunity to develop new skills they can bring back to the PD, but over the course of a 25-30 year career in the same community, a nice break away from their usual duties.
Lastly, I'd like to see a DA with the guts enough to start using local detectives in their investigative units but I think they are way too fearful of SPAM.
I'll take cover now as I await the incoming!
First,
As a Trooper myself, when a call requires STOP Team response, what do you think I do? I am not part of that team either. Do what your level of training is and do it well. What do you think someone on the STOP Team does at a fatal when Collision Analysis & Recon arrive? They ASSIST the expert.

Second,
Expanding ones skills to benefit their PD is fine-if your PD can afford it, form your own PD's team. Most cannot. Why? No $$$$. (Springfield-the 3rd largest city in MA has barely the funds to keep a traffic bureau running.) So instead of spending within a dept's means and maybe training all of its officers in limited response and equipping them for same, they take one or two and send them elsewhere further straining dept funds and manpower. My town has AR's in each cruiser and trained everyone in limited response to an active shooter. Anything beyond that-they call the MSP. That gives everyone a new skill point AND gives someone who may get bored during 25-30 years a "nice break". However, I dont know too many career men at 25-30 years who knowingly get more involved in direct dangerous duty. Most move to less strenuous jobs (court officer, DARE, CP) or make rank putting them in a supervisory role (or sadly a desk). Honestly, how often do you have such an incident where a full blown swat team with armored vehicles is needed? Not often-that is why many many communities rely on free services provided by the STOP Team. Some of the local Chiefs said it - a lec is insurance at best. (and egos-let's face fact)

Third,
SPAM may be against DA's using locals in their office. Thats their job as a Union. Would your Union be against something that takes away jobs from you? I hope so. What good are they if they weren't. Would the MPA be against firefighters suddenly investigating all injury related MV crashes? Of course. Regardless, it was the District Attorneys themselves who banded together and informed EOPS they would not entertain such a move. Don't be naive enough to think SPAM has every single DA intimidated into "using" Troopers. Perhaps its the job Troopers have done over decades and continue to do that was the deciding factor. Perhaps its the fact that every so often the DA must investigate local cops involved in criminal activity and by using Troopers it keep local politics out of it, reduces any leaking of info and offers an independant agency to conduct the invest.

Finally,
I too dont want to see anyone killed or injured because the proper response wasn't available but look around you. Only recently did MA begin buying vests for all cops. Some depts have unreliable radio systems. Dangerous old cruisers. Reduced manpower on the streets. Some cops have low bid weapons and archaic training. Some depts cannot fund things like traffic bureaus or CP or narcotics/DB bureaus. Lacking in anyone one of those could result in an innocent human being killed or injured every day. Joining a lec won't fix any of those problems at all. :shock:
 

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I don't blame SPAM for fighting for its members. The STOP team is upset because every other week NEMLEC is in the Boston papers. The forty towns in southeastern Massachusetts don't use them any more. That makes over 80 towns in Massachusetts that no longer call. The city of Boston, New England Patriots have all used the local teams in the last year. The STOP team has now started training with NEMLEC.
 
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