Chief makes case for more officers

TOWNSEND — At a brief ceremony at Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Chairman and Town Clerk Daniel Murphy swore in Townsend’s newest police sergeant, John W. Johnson.

Chief of Police Erving Marshall Jr. introduced Johnson, saying, “John is a 20-year full-time veteran. He has an associate’s degree in law enforcement with extensive knowledge in accident reconstruction. He is also a firearms instructor.”

Marshall said Johnson is the tenth officer appointed to the position of sergeant on the Townsend force.

Murphy invited Johnson’s wife, Heidi, to pin on her husband’s sergeant’s badge prior to his swearing-in.

“I want to thank the chief and the Board of Selectmen for the vote of confidence in my abilities,” said Johnson. “I also want to thank my wife for her patience in this whole endeavor.”

Marshall turned attention to his department’s labor needs. He asked for the restoration of two full-time officers and for continuation of the School Resource Officer (SRO) position. “I am short two positions, and have an obligation for fill the SRO position. I currently have my night supervisor on a split schedule, and the fewer officers I have the more overtime I incur,” Marshall said.

“These positions have already been argued and scrutinized and have also been approved on town meeting floor,” he said.

Marshall said the ideal setting for police officers is to have one in the east sector, one in the west sector and the supervisor floating in between the two and to provide back-up for both in the event of an incident.

Superintendent of Schools, James McCormick, said, “The school department had a three-year agreement with a grant for the SRO. We made an agreement that when the grant ended, we would pay the salary and you would pay the benefits.” The officer has an office at North Middlesex Regional High School.

“I get the officer for 180 days,” he continued, “you get him or her the rest of the year. The SRO works for the town as a police officer the times when school is not in session — snow days, holidays and all summer. You get the most bang for your buck. I see no negatives with this program.”

McCormick said the school’s willingness to pay the full salary of the SRO for 185 days shows how important the program is to the school district.

Selectman Robert Plamondon said, “The financial constraints are the reality of it. Overtime takes a toll on anyone. In law enforcement you have to be mentally sharp, and it does make more sense to fill the positions you have open.”

“I am paying 90 percent of the tab for the SRO,” said McCormick. “I never suspected you would waiver on this. I cannot afford to wait to see what you’re going to do. We are having budget talks everyday. I want to go forward knowing where you stand on this. I cannot operate on assumptions.”

Murphy countered, “We are not wavering. The Finance Committee is aware that the police are down some positions. They have to look at the big picture and see where we stand.”

Marshall said he is meeting with FinCom later this week.

He appealed to the board for their support for the SRO, as well as filling his vacancies. “You are the appointing body. I need 15 officers to protect this community. These are not new positions. This would just bring me up to full staffing.”

Murphy asked for a vote from the board on whether they would support continuing with the SRO position and back Marshall’s request to fund the benefits portion of it. A unanimous in the affirmative followed.