By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The patrolman’s union has agreed to allow the city to install GPS tracking devices in all police cruisers as part of a new contract approved by City Council this week.
The devices, which allow supervisors to monitor the location of cruisers at all times, are expected to lead to faster response times by giving dispatchers the ability to send the closest officers to emergencies and other service calls.
The tracking systems, called automatic vehicle locators in the police contract, have been controversial in cities that have approved their use among officers who worry they will be used punitively to monitor their every move.
Police departments in Lowell and Somerville are already using GPS in cruisers and Boston is about to begin using them in its police fleet.
Mayor James Fiorentini said it will be up to police Chief Alan DeNaro to decide when Haverhill’s GPS devices will be purchased and installed.
In an email to The Eagle-Tribune, DeNaro said it’s up to Fiorentini to provide money to buy the GPS equipment. The chief said he would comment further when the department is closer to a launch date.
Patrolman Rick Welch, president of the patrolman’s union, did not return a phone message and email seeking his comment for this story.
Haverhill City Solicitor William Cox, who helped negotiate the new police contract, said he expects more cities will soon be installing GPS systems in police cruisers as well as other municipal vehicles.
Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni said he intends to look at GPS technology when contract talks begin with his city’s police union.
“I want to better understand the cost and the pros and cons, but it’s definitely something we’ll look at,” Zanni said, noting the current Methuen police deal expires this summer.
Metheun police Chief Joseph Solomon confirmed GPS technology is likely coming to the department soon.
“We have discussed it in the past and it’s something we’re looking to in the future,” Solomon said, adding the city may look to do it outside the police contract.
Fiorentini said the primary purpose for installing GPS in Haverhill police cruisers is to improve public safety and officer response times. He noted, however, there is nothing in the new police contract that limits how the technology can be used.
GPS technology is not new to Haverhill. The city put GPS devices in highway department trucks and other public works vehicles several years ago following a high-profile scandal in which workers were caught doing private jobs on city time.
Since its use in the highway department, Fiorentini said he is unaware of a single incident in which GPS has been used to discipline a worker. To the contrary, he said there have been instances when the technology has been used to exonerate a worker.
“We’ve had occasions when someone called to say a worker didn’t plow a street or wasn’t were he was supposed to be,” the mayor said. “But because of GPS we were able to check, and in each case the worker was where he was supposed to be.”
Haverhill’s new police contract, which goes back to July 1, 2012 and expires June 30, 2014, includes a three percent pay raise for officers over the two-year span.
The deal also includes new language giving the city the ability to have police officers out of work on sick and injury leave to be checked out by a city doctor, and to have officers return to work on light duty before returning to their regular assignments. In exchange for that provision, the city agreed to pay each officer $300 per year in perpetuity, according to the contract.
The agreement also hikes special pay for detectives from $6 per week to $25 per week. Cox said the weekly $6 stipend has not been increased since the 1970s.
“I want to thank the union for what is a fair and reasonable contract for all sides,” Fiorentini said in a statement on the contract.
The mayor said the 1.5 percent annual pay increases in the police deal are identical to pay raises in the new firefighters contract as well as all other city labor contracts.