Police Chief Proposes Additional Personnel, in Response to Staffing Study

Police Chief John Fisher told the Select Board on Monday his proposed fiscal 2025 budget includes several additional personnel, including expanding the number of patrol officers from 13 to 16.

Fisher is also seeking to add a senior administrator, two dispatchers, including a supervisor, and an “over-hire” of an additional five officers in anticipation of vacancies.  

The expansion is among the cornerstones of a police staffing study presented to the board by a consultant at Monday’s meeting. Jonathan Ingram, a senior manager with the national management consulting firm Raftelis, plans to follow up with an implementation plan within the next two weeks.

Fisher, who spoke after Ingram’s presentation, said that two newly-hired officers just began their required assignment to a state police academy, which means it will be at least nine months until they are certified to join the department staff. Two additional vacancies remain, he said, and he has been notified that another officer intends to retire.

“I prioritize the first three patrol positions so I can fill out our schedules,” Fisher told the board. “We have a minimum staffing model with no room for shrinkage.”

He said the proposed budget was submitted to Town Manager Matt Hanson, and “I fully expect I’ll have to do some wrangling” for the additional staffing. The Finance Committee has advised municipal departments to cap their year-to-year growth at 3.5 percent.

Unfilled shifts because of vacant staff positions are covered by paying officers overtime. Asked by Select Board member Paul Mortenson about the impact of extended shifts, Fisher said not only do officers miss time with their families, but also, “We have a significant amount of mental-health calls, and that wears on you. Our folks see more than their share of people in a bad way.”

In response to a comment from board member Margot Fleischman, Fisher said recruitment and retention are competitive with other area police departments. The highest priority, he said, is creating the immediate greater capacity, and “being able to fill those positions is critical.”

There were a number of recommendations in the report, and Ingram acknowledged that implementation could take five years, with additional costs. The “over-hire” model, Ingram said, “allows for a natural ebb and flow of vacancies and still meet minimum staffing.”

Besides the expanded officer headcount, the report calls for: 

  • Creation of a communications supervisor position. Dispatchers are now managed by an administrative sergeant.
  • Creation of a “high-level” administrative position. Fisher pointed out that the ongoing reaccreditation effort is exacerbated by insufficient administrative support, and there also has been a barrage of requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Establishment of an officer wellness program, not only to support current staff but also to aid in recruitment.
  • Establishment of a department-wide training program.
  • Consideration of adding a full-time clinician

Ingram explained his firm was tasked with addressing organizational structure and identifying staffing levels that connect the department with and provide service to the community. The study also focused on officer wellness, engagement, and retention. The study evaluated resources available to achieve goals and “the gap between results and expectations.”

The report said that “authorized staffing does not reflect actual capacity.” Directly and indirectly because of retirements, between 2020 and 2022 more than 50 percent of patrol positions were vacant. “You can have the right number of positions but the inability to fill means a lot of forced overtime and a lot of unplanned unbudgeted overtime,” Ingram stated. 

Ingram told the board that according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, patrol officers’ time ideally is broken equally into proactive and reactive policing and administrative activities. Proactive, or community, policing, is essential to “making sure officers have the capacity to build relationships.” 

The report based its staffing analysis on this model and advised that 16 authorized positions are required to meet the guideline. He emphasized that the actual breakdown of the allocation is up to an individual department.

Ingram told the board that Raftelis researchers interviewed 21 Bedford police officers and joined some in cruisers on patrol. The research included data analysis – multiple years of logged calls as well as officer-initiated activities. “All the data that is available we turned over a few different ways,” he said.

There is “a high level of morale and camaraderie” in the department, Ingram reported, as well as “a strong commitment to serving the community.” There are also good relations between the patrolmen’s union and management and a positive view by staff of the chief.

The report also cited the department’s co-response with firefighter/EMTs to emergency medical calls, social service calls, and an ongoing presence in Bedford schools and Middlesex Community College.

He also outlined other strategies that can create additional patrol capacity, such as refraining from responding to certain kinds of fire calls or facilitating online reporting by community members.

The researchers also considered 10-and 12-hour shifts as options to the current eight-hour workdays. Changes like that would be subject to collective bargaining.

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