DRACUT -- After 16 years of "systematic reductions" that saw the Police Department go from 44 officers to 37 even as yearly calls for service doubled, it's time the town hired more officers to properly safeguard the public in a town of its size, Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand said last week.
Chartrand presented selectmen with a three-page report that summarized the department's activities for the past year, including 21,364 "calls for service" in 2013, compared with 10,084 in 1998.
"That's obviously a significant increase. We need to address these problems before they get even worse," Chartrand told selectmen Feb. 11. "After a 16-year reduction in manpower, we need to turn the corner on that and start heading back in the other direction.
"We're not looking for any frills, or the latest in technology that's out there in the world of policing. We're talking about boots on the ground. We're talking about officers on the street responding to calls and reacting to what's happening out there, because it's significant," he added.
Chartrand's report also contained multiple comparisons with Dracut's similarly-sized neighbor, Tewksbury, which operates with 59 sworn officers -- including seven more patrolmen, four more sergeants, and eight more detectives than Dracut -- despite having the same amount or less police activity than Dracut in some categories, such as property crimes, theft-related crimes and general disturbances.
Having reviewed Chartrand's presentation over the past week, Selectman Tony Archinski, a retired Dracut police lieutenant, contested several of his statistical findings and flatly rejected the idea of supporting hiring additional Dracut officers.
"I don't know why the deputy chief chose to compare 2013 with 1998, it seems totally random to me. I am also not sure if we were comparing apples to apples," Archinski said Tuesday. "For example, in 1998, if a person came to the police station to ask for directions, we may not have logged that as an incident, whereas today any contact with the public may be counted."
In the week since Chartrand presented his report, selectmen received complaints from several department heads, Archinski said.
"Schools, DPW, fire and almost all other departments need more manpower. It's a fact of life," Archinski said. "The time and place to advocate for more manpower is during the budget cycle, and should be done by the department head during budget discussions with the town manager."
Chartrand said a Jan. 12 Sun article that reported Tewksbury's 1,388 offenses in 2013 were more than twice the total for Dracut was inaccurate because, due to deficiencies in the Dracut Police Department's computer infrastructure, the system failed to export data from Dracut to the FBI's National Incident-Based Reporting System, which provided the statistical information the Sun article was based on.
"We understand that we're not going to have a police budget comparable to that of Tewksbury, where they're somewhere in the vicinity of over $5 million, and we're at $3 million; we know we're not going to be right on the same page, but we're dealing with the same problems and same occurrence of crime," Chartrand continued. "There needs to be some sort of change in the appropriation level that we're dealing with."
In response to Selectmen Chairwoman Cathy Richardson's question about why Dracut police recorded 249 arrests for 2013, only about a third of Tewksbury's 784, Chartrand said it was related to the department's personnel issues.
"We only have a certain number of officers on the street available for the rest of the calls for service, so instead of effecting an arrest, bringing that person in and going through the booking process, in a lot of situations the officer is cutting the person loose and issuing a summons later on, so the officer can get back on the street," Chartrand said Feb. 11.
"There's a lot of activity that we could be doing if we weren't just chasing our tail in trying to deal with the calls that are coming in."
Chartrand concluded his presentation by pleading for selectmen to take up the cause of making an "incremental increase" in police staffing; however, he received no words of encouragement from members Richardson, Archinski or Bob Cox. Selectmen John Zimini and Joe DiRocco were absent.
In rebuffing Chartrand's call for new hires, Archinski also called attention to a November online report on the "Top 100 Safest Cities in the U.S.," by NeighborhoodScout.com, (www.neighborhoodscout.com/neighborhoods/crime-rates/top100safest/) that ranked Dracut as the nation's 48th-safest community, based on 2012 data.
"Something's amiss when you have an article this week touting Dracut as one of the safest places in the country to live, and you have a high-ranking police official telling people to batten down the hatches because we don't have enough police officers to answer calls," Archinski said.
On its website, NeighborhoodScout cited "the number of total crimes reported to the FBI to have occurred in each city" as a major factor in forming its national rankings. It was unclear at press time whether NeighborhoodScout's safe-city data may be flawed due to Dracut's computer data exporting deficiencies cited by Chartrand.
Other Massachusetts towns listed include Franklin, ranked No. 1, followed by Lexington, at No. 7 and Reading at 13. Billerica is listed at No. 76.
Follow John Collins on Twitter and Tout at johncolowellsun.
The following is the "Dracut Police Department Statistical Analysis,"written presentation that was submitted by Dracut's Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand to the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 11, 2013.
In recent months an article appeared in the Lowell Sun that identified the Town of Tewksbury as having the highest number of crime related incidents amongst the Greater Lowell suburban communities. The crime stats for this article were ascertained through NIBRS (National Incident Based Reporting System) data. Dracut was purported in the article to have experienced far less criminal activity.
Due to computer infrastructure deficiencies, and the lack of ability to launch needed software updates, the ability of our system to export accurate data to the NIBRS system was severely hampered.
I have compiled our actual statistics for calendar year 2013, along with a comparison to the published crime statistics from the Tewksbury Police Department.
I have grouped a number of statistics into similar categories for analysis. The groups are the following; assault related, theft related, general disturbance calls, property crimes, motor vehicle crashes, arrests, motor vehicle stops, and alarm calls.
There are many more incidents the Dracut Police have had to respond to, but the groupings were selected based on the ability to accurately compare to the Tewksbury statistics.
Assault-related crimes: Tewksbury, 376; Dracut, 344
Theft related crimes: Tewksbury. 911; Dracut, 957
General disturbances: Tewksbury, 168; Dracut, 467
Property crimes: Tewksbury, 208; Dracut, 267
Motor vehicle crashes: Tewksbury, 792; Dracut, 683
Arrests: Tewksbury, 784; Dracut, 249
Motor vehicle stops: Tewksbury, 5,523; Dracut, 5,211
Alarm calls: Tewksbury, 1,072; Dracut, 1,209
As you can see from the data above for the core groupings of criminal activities, the two municipalities of Tewksbury and Dracut are similar and consistent with each other. The same cannot be said for the available police staffing to combat the occurrence of these crimes.
Staff comparison, Tewksbury and Dracut Police Departments:
Total sworn officers: : Tewksbury, 59; Dracut, 37; Lieutenants: Tewksbury, 5; Dracut, 4; Sergeants: Tewksbury, 10; Dracut, 6; Patrolmen: Tewksbury, 26; Dracut, 19; Detectives: Tewksbury, 12; Dracut, 4; K-9 officer: Tewksbury, 1; Dracut, 1; School Resource Officer: Tewksbury, 1; Dracut 1; Safety officer: Tewksbury, 1; Dracut, 0; Domestic Violence officer: Tewskbury, 1; Dracut, 0.
Dracut Police Department internal, 1998/2013 comparison:
Total sworn officers: 1998, 44; 2013, 37
Captains: 1998, 3; 2014, 0
Lieutenants: 1998, 1; 2013, 4
Sergeants: 1998, 6; 2013, 6
Patrolmen: 1998, 20; 2013, 19
Detectives: 1998, 5; 2013, 4
Community police: 1998, 6; 2013, 0
D.A.R.E./SRO: 1998, 1; 2013, 1*
(* Should be noted current SRO position exists because of commitment from School Department to fund 50 percent of associated costs.)
Not only is our current staffing level significantly less than a similarly situated neighboring community (Tewksbury), it reflects an actual reduction in our own manpower from our funded staffing level in 1998. Sixteen years ago (1998), the Dracut Police Department handled 10,874 police related incidents, in 2013 that number has risen to 21,364. The demand on our resources has increased significantly, yet our staffing has been reduced.
It has been clearly demonstrated that the necessity for the police to respond to incidents of criminal activity is significant and increasing. In turn, rather than committing to incremental growth of the police department, the town has systematically reduced the overall manpower of the department. One of the principal and constitutional intents of the establishment of government is to provide for the protection and safety of its citizens. The members of the Dracut Police Department are dedicated and committed to these very real ideals, and strive on a daily basis to do so. The department is motivated to provide the best police services possible for the citizens they serve. The time is now to prioritize public safety as a necessary and worthwhile public investment. At a baseline level, trying to combat increasing criminal activity, with significantly less resources than our geographic counterparts, as well as having an internal staffing level notably less than sixteen (16) years ago, is not conducive to successfully achieving our efforts to prevent and solve crime.
- Dracut Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand, Feb. 11, 2014