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November 24, 2012

State money renews debate over police staffing

Union, mayor agree on need for officers, but $69K may be used to increase patrols

HAVERHILL — A state regional policing grant on its way here has reignited the debate over whether Haverhill has enough to officers to adequately cover its 35 square miles of densely-packed urban areas and sprawling rural outskirts.

State Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, announced last week Haverhill has received $69,000 from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety & Security for larger departments to spur regional policing efforts.

Mayor James Fiorentini said he wants to use the money to hire another police officer, but that he’s not sure whether it can be used for that purpose.

“Our long term goal is to add to the force,” the mayor said. “But it is not yet clear if we can use this grant for that purpose. If not, we will use it for increased patrols in high crime areas.”

Haverhill’s police budget and staffing in particular has been a heated topic of debate in recent months among the patrolmen’s union, police Chief Alan DeNaro and the mayor’s office. The city’s has around 90 officers and 61,000 residents — one of the lowest officer-to-resident ratios in the region.

Back in May, representatives of the patrolman’s union said the force lacks the manpower to prevent and investigate crimes effectively and that officers have been relegated mainly to responding to calls for service and help. As a result of the low staffing, unions officials said officers are overworked and have low morale.

DeNaro responded to the union’s claims by saying that indeed there are fewer officers than he would like, but that the city is adequately protected. He said regional policing agreements with Haverhill’s neighbors augment the city’s own public safety resources.

In a written statement yesterday, the patrolmen’s union said it “stands firm in its opinion that the department is well understaffed.”

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