METHUEN -- The mayor and City Council want to end the use of so-called "intermittent police officers," saying their use has been abused by the police chief.

The council voted unanimously at its last meeting in favor of a petition by Mayor Neil Perry to have the state Legislature rescind a law specific to Methuen that was passed in 1945 at a time of manpower shortages, and allows the use of intermittent officers. 

The measure will be voted on again at Monday night's meeting and seems likely to pass.

"This act, which was passed during World War II, is being exploited," said City Councilor Steve Saba. "This is way overdue."

The proposal to rescind the state act comes amid a number of measures aimed at reeling in the department, which city councilors have said is out of control and costing taxpayers millions of dollars due to mismanagement.

Police Chief Joseph Solomon declined to comment on the effort to abolish intermittent officers.

The City Council on Monday night is also expected to vote on a resolution that would empower the council to launch its own investigation into the department, complete with subpoena powers. Some of the issues to be investigated include the use of intermittent police officers, "past incidents involving police officers, and management of the department."

The investigation comes on top of an outside audit of the department that is currently underway and is expected to be complete in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the battle over the Superior Officers' Union contract remains in mediation, with a ruling expected later this year or early next year. The superior officers were given a contract in 2017 under former Mayor Steven Zanni that provided them with huge raises and salaries city officials have said city cannot support. The current City Council has refused to fund the contract.

Solomon said the proposed investigation "is just another harassment by members of the City Council who have personal agendas aimed at the police department." 

Intermittent officers 

City Councilors claim Solomon has been using the state act -- intended to allow the city to use intermittent police officers during manpower shortages -- to reward his friends with jobs even though they aren't fully trained police officers.

"The chief has bastardized this World War II-era all-hands-on-deck statute to create a Jobs for Councilors program," said Council Vice Chairman DJ Beauregard, referring to the hiring of former City Councilor Sean Fountain as an intermittent police officer. Fountain worked full-time and was eventually promoted to detective. 

Beauregard added that "in Fountain's case (the chief) doled out taxpayer-funded positions to his pals. A Friends and Family program, if you will. It's appalling and I'm glad that Mayor Perry took the initiative here by pushing for the statute's repeal to prevent it from being used to create fake jobs for political hacks."

Fountain, along with three other intermittent officers, no longer work for the city. 

Perry said he is in the process of hiring reserve officers who will be sent to the full-time police academy for training.

City Councilor Mike Simard said during the Nov. 4 meeting that only small towns in western Massachusetts still use intermittent officers. He added that based on state guidelines, intermittent officers are not supposed to be working as full-time police officers, but should be used for special events, to augment the force in times of crisis and "as a means to evaluate the potential of future police officers before hiring them full-time."

Simard said the over-reliance on intermittent officers has led to a number of "hiring problems," including lack of diversity on the force as well as the liability of having officers on the street who haven't gone through the 800 hours of full-time training in the police academy.

In most cases, he said, intermittent officers have only received about 315 hours of training.

"If they do something on the job due to lack of training, we get sued," he said. "Or if they get injured, they sue the city."

Council investigation 

Simard, chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said he has been joined by three councilors on his committee in seeking an investigation into the department, including Steve Saba, Allison Saffie and Beauregard.

"We are doing what the public safety committee should do," Simard said. "We've requested a lot of information about what's going on in the department and it's taken months to get information and often the information we get is redacted and not accurate. We've been stonewalled since day one."

Simard is in his first term as a city councilor and has made the police department his number one issue.

"This is separate from the audit," he added. "We will uncover things that won't be uncovered by the audit."

He said the investigation is intended to root out the "gross mismanagement" that past city councils and mayors "have allowed to thrive."

He added that Solomon "exploits situations to benefit his cronies."

The City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. and will be viewable on Methuen TV stations and the Methuen TV website.

 

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