HAVERHILL — The City Council approved Mayor James Fiorentini’s request to hire two new police officers last night, answering calls from the patrolman’s union and some members of the public to bolster the force’s declining ranks.
The union has complained that low staffing has led to poor morale among officers and hampers the department’s ability to devote proper resources to preventing and solving crimes.
The council voted to transfer $26,364 from the city’s cash reserve account to pay the salaries of the new officers through the end of the fiscal year June 30, but it’s unclear when the new recruits will actually start.
In a brief interview after the meeting, Fiorentini said he is negotiating with the union about when the officers will start.
The recruits have to go through the police academy before they can work as officers on the street, but they can perform some administrative functions and possibly other duties until then if the city wants to hire them right away, said patrolman Rick Welch, vice president of the police union. Welch, who sat in on last night’s meeting, said the next police academy session begins in June.
“We’re pleased with the mayor’s decision to add two officers and we’d like them to start right away,” Welch said. “We’re talking to the mayor about what they could do until they complete their training.”
The decision to hire more officers comes two weeks after Fiorentini announced that major crime is down 13 percent in Haverhill since 2010 in seven areas tracked by local police for the FBI. The patrolmen have said the statistics are misleading and that violent crime and gang activity is actually increasing in Haverhill, based on their first-hand experience policing the city.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report tracks reported homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle crimes. According to the report, major crimes in Haverhill were down significantly in 2012 compared to 2010. The comparison of those two years shows these drops: homicide 33 percent, rape 38 percent, robbery 32 percent, and burglaries 51 percent.
The city’s 2012 crime levels are less encouraging when compared to 2011, however. In fact, murders actually increased from one in 2011 to two last year; there were the same number of assaults — 294 — in 2011 and 2012; and reported instances of forcible rape dropped by only one to 15. When 2012 is compared only to 2011, major crime is down only a few points overall.
In the seven categories, there were 2,149 reported crimes in 2010; 1,947 in 2011; and 1,878 last year.
The patrolmen have cast doubt on the statistics as an accurate measurement of crime levels in the city. In a prior statement, the union said the FBI report is “limited to specific categories and lacks the intimate knowledge of the community and the police department that supplies the information.”
For instance, the FBI warns against using Uniform Crime Report data to form a full picture of crime in a community. An advisory explains that a department’s resources, including its budget and its ratio of police officers to residents, are key parts of the crime picture not accounted for in the raw statistics.
Haverhill has one of the worst officer-to-resident ratios in the region, according to the union and other regional studies. There are around 65 patrolmen and detectives to police Haverhill’s roughly 61,000 residents and 35 square miles.
The FBI report also does not track so-called victimless crimes such as prostitution and drug dealing, and it only tracks reported crimes. Moreover, only male-against-female rapes are counted in the report in tracking rapes and sexual assaults, and only the most severe crime is reported in an instance where multiple offenses have been committed.