LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua hosted a special City Hall ceremony for a dozen cops yesterday — to recognize a newly promoted sergeant and 11 other superior officers who are getting their ranks restored to what they were prior to being demoted in mid-2010 as a move to balance the budget.
Police Chief John Romero and more than three dozen members of the Lawrence Police Department crowded into the mayor's third-floor office late in the afternoon for Lantigua's formal announcement — one that both officials proclaimed "a new day for the city of Lawrence."
The mayor and the police chief said the reinstatement of two captains, four lieutenants and five sergeants and the new sergeant's promotion — which takes effect tomorrow — will enable the Police Department to reactivate several special crime-fighting units which have been dismantled because of massive police layoffs and demotions over the past two years.
"Thanks to the close monitoring of overtime, not filling vacant positions upon retirements and overall healthier fiscal climate, these reinstatements are financially possible at this time," Lantigua said.
"I am convinced that these reinstatements will not only boost department morale, but will be a tool to reestablish our specialized units that have a proven track record in this city and throughout the Commonwealth. This marks a new day for our city and my administration," Lantigua said.
The mayor stood at the podium in his office, flanked on the left by Chief Romero and on the right by newly restored-Capt. Scott McNamara, president of the Lawrence Superior Officers Association. The 11 other superior officers who were recognized at the briefing lined up on both sides of the three men.
McNamara and Romero credited the mayor with recent discussions that led to the reinstatements, which officials say will come at "a minimal cost" to the city.
"We were able to offset these reinstatements because of grants we received and an agreement between the city and the superior officers union regarding supervisory overtime," Romero said in an interview later.
"For the first six months of fiscal 2013 (which begins July 1), they will adjust their schedules while maintaining two officers per shift and making sure there is no overtime," the chief said.
The mayor and police officials attending yesterday's meeting acknowledged the reinstatements developed because of recent, improved communication between the mayor and police. Relations between the mayor's office and the Police Department have been strained since the demotions of the senior officers and the layoffs of 24 police officers in the midst of the city's fiscal crisis two years ago.
Communications got even worse about a year ago, when the superior officers mailed out a letter to local media blaming the mayor for "crushing the morale of a once proud Police Department."
"There's no question there wasn't much communication between the Police Department and the mayor's office," Romero said yesterday.
"But we sat down and had a productive meeting earlier this month. And from that, there were other meetings between the mayor and staff and superior officers union. As a result of these recent talks, I think we really have opened the lines of communication going forward. I think we have turned the corner and we have taken a step to improve public safety in the city, the chief said.
During yesterday's briefing, the mayor alluded to some police officers in the room who he didn't talk to. But he vowed to improve relations with the police, noting recent meetings with the chief to improve communications while developing strategies to improve public safety in city.
"I will go out of my way to continue those conversations," Lantigua said.
State-appointed fiscal overseer Robert Nunes called yesterday's announcement "one of the highlights" during his two years in the city.
"Now that we are in a better fiscal position, it's a sign of their cooperation and dedication that we can not only restore these important public safety positions, but make sure they are sustainable for the future. This is a big win for the residents of the City of Lawrence," Nunes said.
At least one city councilor expressed cautious optimism about the reinstatements.
"I'm glad we can do it, but I feel the same way I did about the reopening of the firehouse up on Prospect Hill," said City Councilor Daniel Rivera, who chairs the council's Budget and Finance Committee.
"I think it's a good thing, as long as we can sustain it. And if money becomes available, I think we need to get more bodies out on the street," Rivera said.
Both the mayor and the chief were optimistic yesterday about the police force moving closer to its manpower prior to the layoffs when there were 151 officers.
"We were down to 110 and we are now approaching the 120 mark," the chief said.
"And the good thing right now, we're going to get back the special operations units that have made us so successful in fighting crime — traffic, insurance fraud, auto theft, drugs and community policing. So, we've definitely headed in the right direction," he said.
Getting Back their ranks
The superior officers who have been restored to their previous ranks:
From sergeant to captain: Scott McNamara and James Fitzpatrick.
From sergeant to lieutenant: Mark Ciccarelli, Steve Scheffen, Daniel Fleming and James Raso.
From patrolman to sergeant: Amanda Burke, John Nicoletti, Carlton Trombly, Joseph Cerullo, John Bernard.
New promotion: Officer Maurice Aguiler to sergeant.