The mechanics behind police details and police detail pay took center stage at a City Council subcommittee meeting Monday night.
The meeting was requested by Councilor-At-Large Damali Vidot after the council received a letter from a resident earlier this year raising concerns about overtime and detail pay, as well as the relative safety of the city.
In the email, Jennifer Griffin requested a change in the city ordinance that mandates police details on traffic construction projects, rather than flaggers.
Griffin also raised concerns about Chelsea having roughly the same number of police officers as neighboring Revere, yet having a higher crime rate and being on the list of the most dangerous cities in the state.
“The reason for this email is to change an ordinance put in place by the city that an officer has to be at details when by law it is not required,” wrote Griffin, adding that it would be less expensive for the city to use flaggers on details.
Police Chief Brian Kyes said he wanted to separate out the issues of the details and the perceived level of crime in the city.
“Chelsea being on any list of most dangerous cities is inaccurate,” said Kyes. “There was a time in 2011, 2012, 2013 where we had some problems with violent crime and property crime, and as a result, total crime. Thankfully, we have been able to drive those numbers down significantly.”
As for details, Kyes noted that the majority of detail pay is paid by contractors who are doing work and hire the officers.
The chief also noted that there was a time around 2008 when there was a statewide push to replace police details with civilian flaggers.
At the time, Kyes said proponents stated the civilian flaggers would save the state money, but further research showed that because of prevailing wage laws, there would not have been a dramatic cost savings.
Police details also increase police presence in the community, Kyes added.
“We all can agree that police visibility is important and the visibility of uniformed officers on the street is certainly a deterrent to crime,” said Kyes.
Vidot asked if it was a requirement that the city use police officers for all details in the city.
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino said there are certain regulations where the state would allow for flaggers rather than police on certain municipal roads with speed limits under 45 miles per hour. However, Ambrosino said he would never recommend the move to civilian flaggers, adding that there are two impediments even if the city council wanted to go down that road.
There is the city ordinance on the books which requires police details, and there is a collective bargaining agreement with the police unions which allow for the details.
Griffin said she has seen several instances of detail officers not paying attention while they work, and sent video and photos of some of those instances to the city council.
“In terms of what the video showed, I haven’t seen it,” said the police chief. “Have there been times when officers are looking at a phone and not paying attention? Sure there are. Does that make me happy? It does not.”
Kyes said there have been many officers over the years who have been disciplined for inattention to duty or neglect while they have been on either regular or detail duty.
“They are there to work, they are there to perform a duty, they are there to keep people safe,” said Kyes. “To the extent that I get a video sent to me, or I get a picture sent to me, it’s always addressed and investigated, and if discipline is necessary, it is imposed.”
Near the end of the subcommittee, Griffin reiterated that she believes crime is an issue in the city, and she would rather see more officers patrolling the streets than working details.
“I think there are not enough cops out there,” she said. “I can drive by Central Ave. and there are three officers hanging out and talking during a detail, over by the DPW there are another three officers.”
On the day Griffin said she saw all the officers on details, she did not see one regular duty officer in the city while she was driving around.
“There needs to be more patrolling,” Griffin said. “If there was, there wouldn’t be as many shootings, there wouldn’t be as many fights, there wouldn’t be this stuff happening and going on right now.”
But Kyes said if the police details ended, it would not translate to more patrols.
“If (detail officers) are gone tomorrow, they are gone tomorrow,” said Kyes. “It’s not as if the individuals available to patrol the streets are going to increase. Those numbers stay the same.”