Police budget approved

Feb 11, 2020 by

Published in the February 11, 2020 edition.

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — The Town Council last night lent its support to the Police Department’s budget, approving Police Chief Steven Skory’s $5,960,655 request for FY 2021.

Chief Skory was on hand as Town Accountant Kevin Gill presented the numbers. Also present was Finance Committee member Joseph Tringale, who chairs the FinCom subcommittee on the police budget.

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio noted that after the public safety department budgets are presented, the Town Council will have heard about two-thirds of the town’s departmental budgets. Those budgets reflect an aggregate increase of about 1.33 percent over FY2020, he said. Maio did note that some unions have not settled their contracts. Once those contracts are done, he estimated the overall increase would be about 3.2 percent.

Gill noted that the Police budget included an overall increase of $12,787. In personal services there was a decrease of $32,411 due to retirements and newer officers coming in at a lower pay grade. He stressed that personal services line items will be revisited when union contract agreements are reached.

He pointed to an additional $35,000 in the budget to add 16 hours to the Mental Health Clinician’s weekly work schedule. She currently works with the Police Department 24 hours a week in a grant-funded position, Gill said.

Skory noted that the police handled 440 mental health-related calls last year. Such calls often require a tremendous amount of follow-up, Skory said, and the added hours for the clinician will help with that.

Tringale said that while the full Finance Committee has not yet reviewed the Police budget, he supported it. He noted that the department is “probably understaffed,” a situation that would have to be addressed at some point.

In response to a question from Town Councilor Jonathan Chines, Skory said that there were 58 drug overdoses in Wakefield last year, down 4.9 percent from the year before. There were seven fatal overdoses, he said, a decrease of 71.4 percent. There were 32 cases where police administered Narcan, the opiate overdose reversal drug, which he called a “difference maker.”

Skory said that while there was an overall drop in opioid overdoses last year, the biggest drop was in repeat overdoses. Skory attributed the improved numbers to education and the help that is now available for those struggling with drugs. He said that the lessening of the opioid crisis correlates with a slight drop in overall crime from last year.

Skory said, however, that he was concerned about an uptick in the amount of methamphetamine seen in the region of late.

Town Councilor Paul DiNocco praised the work of the Police Department, despite the fact that they are down several officers. Skory said that one recruit is currently in the Police Academy and will graduate in June. He said that he expects three more recruits to enter the academy in May.

Dombroski noted that the Police Department is doing a great job despite the additional challenge of working in a facility that is deficient in many ways.

Town Councilor Julie Smith-Galvin asked how parking enforcement was working out.

Skory called the addition of two civilian parking enforcement officers “a success.” What has been most gratifying, he said, was the positive feedback from business owners in the downtown and Greenwood, especially the ones who were skeptical at first. He said that the focus on enforcement has done what it was intended to do: increase parking turnover.

The Town Council’s vote approving the Police budget was unanimous. The Finance Committee will also review the budget before it goes to Town Meeting on May 4.

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