By Jennifer L. Grybowski, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Westborough Police Chief Jeffrey Lourie came to the Board of Selectmen Oct. 7 to ask for support on a Town Meeting article funding a seven-month police officer position. However, he asked for much more than that.
Lourie reminded selectmen that the staffing study, which was completed last spring, recommended his department hire seven officers immediately just to deal with the call volume. Those staffing needs were put off due to the pandemic, but Lourie said his need for staff is more imperative than ever, and that he really could use 10 more officers.
“We’re busy,” he said. “If you look at the trends prior to COVID, we were on a record pace. I’m very proud of the Westborough Police Department, but quite frankly, we need some tires on the road.”
The department has steadily seen an increase in offenses, even pre-COVID. There were 168 offenses in Jan. 2020 and 189 in Feb. 2020, up from 107 offenses in Jan. 2019 and 72 in Feb. 2019 and also up from 91 in Jan. 2018 and 87 in Feb. 2018. In 2018 there were 1,281 incident reports and 105 arrests, in 2019 there were 1,600 incident reports and 107 arrests and in 2020 there were 1,708 reports and 177 arrests.
“And there are still several months to go,” Lourie said. “We are doing everything in our power right now not to arrest people because of COVID. We are trying to keep our officers safe.”
Lourie also reported that while behavioral health emergencies remain steady, the number of overdoses has doubled from last year.
“Your officers are the ones in their cruisers, getting there as first responders, supplying Narcan to those in crisis,” he said. “We’ve had four stabbings since February.”
Lourie said he is running shifts extremely short, and often has to leave the station unmanned.
“The staffing study was clear: you need those bodies to get the work done,” he said. “We are going to do the best we can with what we have, we aren’t complaining here, but we aren’t going to meet certain expectations.”
Some of those expectations include things like traffic complaints, which his officers simply can’t keep up with. Community policing is also suffering.
“We also need people to be proactive,” he said. “We need officers to be visible in community to try and prevent [crimes]. We believe in community policing.”
Lourie then handed the meeting over to Deputy Chief Todd Minardi, who explained the force’s fleet is in need as well, and asked for support for an article at the fall town meeting to purchase another cruiser.
The department requested the replacement of two cruisers (a 2017 Ford Utility with over 100,000 miles that has been “dead-lined” with serious technical issues too costly to repair and a 2016 Ford Utility with over 120,000 miles that is also facing some repairs) in its capital plan earlier in the year.
He acknowledged that in June voters approved one replacement vehicle, and the department had been able to secure a Ford Utility hybrid, which is currently being built.
“That goes along with the town’s green community initiatives,” he said, noting the plan is to replace the 2016 with a hybrid as well. While the hybrids cost about $4,000 more to purchase, Ford estimates the hybrids save over 10,000 gallons of fuel, amounting to potentially $3,500 in saved fuel costs and a reduction in carbon CO2 emissions.
In addition, the accident reconstruction officer is driving a 2016 Chevy Tahoe that needs to be replaced.
“It’s just not big enough for him,” Minardi said. “There isn’t enough cargo space.”
He also noted the administration fleet is down one vehicle, with three vehicles assigned to four detectives.
Minardi said he did looking into the possibility of leasing fleet, but found there is in fact no lease program; instead, there is a financing program. Estimates from that program show it would cost the town significantly more to finance the vehicles rather than purchasing them outright.
Selectmen were in support of both of these articles, praising the department for its work under stressful conditions. The fall Town Meeting will be held Saturday, Nov. 7 at 9 a.m. at Westborough High School.