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Worcester’s New Police Recruits Face Little Job Security

Friday, April 13, 2012

 

When 25 new police recruits finally don their Worcester blues, they’ll do so facing the distinct possibility of a layoff if the city is unable to wrap its hands around a $3.2 million deficit.

Just ask the class of recruits in 2009.

Police hopefuls in that class completed academy training, only to be laid off after doing so. Since then, according to Christina Andreoli, spokesperson for City Manager Michael O’Brien, 10 have been rehired. The rest, she said, either found other jobs or chose not take a job offer from the city.

“Yes, the class was laid off due to the global and national recession, which resulted in dramatic state aid cuts and declining local revenues,” Andreoli said in a statement to GoLocalWorcester. “There have been no other ‘layoffs’ within the police department; however, the city Manager and the chief worked through a reorganization plan of the department.”

That plan, she said, combined divisions, consolidated operations and reduced the number of officers in specific divisions within the police department, such as the traffic division. The plan set a benchmark of 330 patrolmen and 88 police officials. Today, there are currently 323 patrolmen on the force.

“This is an historic low for the department’s staffing levels,” Andreoli said. 

Joining the force

The new class of recruits, which Mayor Joseph Petty announced at a press conference last week, will start training in July. The officers are expected to be ready to join the Worcester force at the start of next year. Still, there is no guarantee that a layoff of future recruits won’t happen. What can be guaranteed, Andreoli said, is a commitment by city officials to stay true to financial projections.

“The manager adopted a five-year financial plan when he was first appointed and he has stayed true to this plan during his tenure,” she said. “…projections are derived from trends, forecasts and the marketplace (futures, etc.). These projections become more definitive as we move into the fiscal year.”

Andreoli outlined specific sources that will fund the new recruiting class, including changes in the collective bargaining contract, anticipated retirements within the department and not filling police official positions. Those would be replaced with patrolmen.

10 additional cops

Chief Gary Gemme at news conference announcing new recruiting class

The 25 new recruits, it should be noted, represent 10 more than Police Chief Gary Gemme asked for in a recent memo to O’Brien, when he recommended 15. That would have cost the city $870,000. As it stands, the city will spend $1.45 million on a class of 25, according to Gemme. Mayor Joseph Petty revealed the city’s decision to go with the larger number at his press conference.

A police department spokesperson referred a request for comment from Chief Gemme to city hall. 

At the press conference, O’Brien spoke of the process behind increasing the number of recruits.

“When this process started last July… looking ahead to FY2013… this recruit class was benchmarked at seven,” he said. “In the efforts since then – analysis after analysis, projected retirements, community needs, dialogue, financial projections, number crunching, dialogue (led to increasing the number) to 15. Then my work to push this further based on real departmental and community needs as articulated by all that I mentioned.”

Officers are needed

District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera said the police department desperately needs 25 new officers, saying, “We’re down about 70 officers. It was a conversation done on the council floor on where was the highest (cost) we could go to. We all know the department needs these officers.”

Gemme’s initial recommendation of 15, she said, may have been intentionally low because of budget concerns. Councilors, she said, are determined to maintain funding for the new officers.”

There is definitely a strong commitment to keeping them,” Rivera said. “I remember that class of 2009 very well, even though I wasn’t a councilor then. We are committed to making sure this isn’t about just having a class of recruits, but about having new officers for the city.”

O’Brien’s commitment, Andreoli said, will be reflected in his budget recommendations. She said he is working to slash costs elsewhere.

“We continue to work on reforms to rein in budget-busting cost centers, which have helped close budget gaps in previous fiscal years,” she said.


 

 

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