Westborough police chief, deputy chief discuss understaffing

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By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer

Westborough town iconWESTBOROUGH – Understaffing issues continue in Westborough as the Police Department is not on track to meet a recommended hiring benchmark initially proposed in 2019, Deputy Chief Todd Minardi told the Select Board, Sept. 14.

Joined in his presentation by Chief Jeffery Lourie, Minardi referred to a staffing study conducted by Municipal Resources Inc. at the request of the Westborough Police in 2018. When WPD presented their findings in Jan. 2019, Minardi said, they recommended hiring five patrol positions immediately and adding a total of 15 by 2024.

“We are not close to that,” Minardi said. “We started with two. The following year we did two, and then we did one. We’re not going to reach 15 by 2024, we understand that. That’s just the nature of where we’re at.”

Understaffing limits ability to be ‘proactive,’ deputy chief says

Minardi said that, as a result of understaffing, the Westborough Police have a day shift that is one officer short. Some other shifts are regularly at their minimum staffing threshold. There is generally a lack of station coverage, he said.

Minardi said that this can result in officers being called in for overtime at the last minute.

More patrol positions, Minardi added, are necessary to proactively target crime in
Westborough.

“We have eight hotels in this community,” Minardi said. “I hate to say it, but there is human
trafficking taking place in this town. There is drug dealing taking place in this town.”

“We need to do more proactive police work, and we just can’t do that with the staffing level that we have,” Lourie said.

Lourie noted that, just hours earlier on Sept. 14, WPD had made an arrest after an intoxicated person was involved in an accident.

Because the WPD was at minimum staffing, Lourie said they had to order someone from the day shift to stay late and watch the arrested individual.

Increased call volume heightens burden on police force

Minardi said that this understaffing is coming at a time of increased incident reports. There is a projected 55.6 percent increase in such incidents from 2018 to 2021, along with a projected 144 percent increase in arrests.

Minardi said the WPD have submitted a proposal for American Rescue Plan funding to help improve the staffing situation. The proposal would add three new patrol positions, as well as a hybrid police cruiser. Police had asked for these positions in budget discussions for fiscal year (FY) 2021 as well as FY 2022.

Those were cut, though, as those budgets took shape.

Such additions would increase Westborough’s patrol staffing to 30 officers. That would mark an increase of eight officers on staff since Municipal Resources Inc. issued its request. It would still fall short of the recommendation, however, which suggested having 33 patrol officers by 2022.

‘There’s no one there after the day shift’

Lourie reiterated the need to increase staffing, saying that he regrets times when the
Westborough police station itself is “dark.”

“If you’re a citizen and you need help and you need someone in that station to help you, there’s no one there after the day shift,” he said. “That’s just wrong.”

Through all this, though, Lourie and Minardi said they recognized how the pandemic, in
particular, has thrown a wrench in long-term budgetary plans across Westborough’s municipal departments.

“We understand that we are one department in the town,” Minardi said. “There’s a lot of other departments. There’s a lot of other needs. And we really want everyone to understand that we do take that into consideration.”

The effort to address these problems in the context of the pandemic and other challenges facing the town is ongoing, officials noted.

“There’s a need and we’re trying to be clear in how we might go about fulfilling that need,” said Town Manager Kristi Williams.