By Dan Miller, Contributing Writer
WESTBOROUGH – Westborough police will increasingly be looking to civilians to provide traffic control instead of armed police officers under a plan proposed by the police department and approved by the Select Board Dec. 21.
The board, by a 4-0 vote, approved creating the new civilian traffic constable position and an accompanying job description.
Chief Jeffrey Lourie told the board the move is driven by sweeping changes coming down from the state through the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission, a body established as part of the criminal justice reform enacted in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May.
If the town did not act, the department would begin losing reserve police officers due to increased training requirements being imposed by the commission, starting with four officers who would be the first to lose their certification on July 1, according to Deputy Chief Todd Minardi.
Among the new requirements is 2,400 hours of patrol. Under Westborough department policy, though, reserve officers only do details and not patrol work, Minardi said, although reserve officers do go on patrol in other communities.
The department can keep these reserve officers by transitioning them to the traffic constable position, Minardi said.
These reserve officers have police authority now. But they would not after this change. They would instead be a non-sworn civilian with no police power, no weapon and no badge, Minardi said.
“They can’t work a basketball game or a security detail, but they can help move pedestrian and vehicle traffic at certain events,” Minardi said.
The traffic constables would also handle traffic control to support private business work zones and events, town-sanctioned events and public works’ work zones.
Reserve officers currently work on a per diem basis, meaning they are only paid when they work, said town manager Kristi Williams. Private companies pay the town to use reserve officers when they need them, and the town also charges an administrative fee when reserve officers are used.
Williams did not indicate whether any of this would change when the reserve officers transition to the civilian traffic constable position.
While the move is mostly necessary to avoid losing the reserve officers – most of whom are retired police officers – Minardi said it’s also needed from a manpower standpoint.
“We can’t fill the [traffic] details that we have,” he said. “The only way is to have these traffic officers.”
Other communities that have created the traffic constable position include Southborough, Hopkinton, Framingham, Lexington, Attleboro, Woburn and Yarmouth.
Besides the four reserve officers who would be lost by July 1 if nothing is done, Minardi said the department stands to lose more reserve officers annually for the next three years, mostly due to the 2,400-hour patrol requirement.
The department did not say how many traffic constables it will need or if all reserve officers will transition to the new position or just some.
The need now “is to keep those we have in place,” Lourie said. “If we can’t fill the jobs, we could look at adding more. It’s a win-win I think for Westborough.”