Taxpayers question police about salaries and duties
Jamestown police officers this week participated in an open forum held by the Jamestown Taxpayers Association to field questions about their union contract and services to the community.
The police presence at the Jan. 11 forum included Chief Thomas Tighe, Detective Derek Carlino and Officers John Areson and Scott Sullivan. The event played to a packed house at the Philomenian Library.
Carlino, president of Local 305 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, narrated a series of slides illustrating a variety of topics ranging from health insurance benefits to crime trends.
Jamestown, Carlino told the audience, is not immune to serious crime.
“We have break-ins and cars are stolen,” he said. “But we’ve also had suspicious deaths and sexual assaults.”
The police department knew that the association had a particular interest in hearing about salaries and benefits, and Carlino delivered that information in great detail.
“We hope this information will enable you to made educated decisions on how you feel about our compensation package,” he said.
Carlino noted that under Jamestown’s contract with Local 305, a lieutenant earns $61,100; a sergeant, $55,800; and a patrolman, $51,000, $39,900 or $37,300, de- pending on his or her grade. The salary for probationary officers is set at $28,000.
Noting that all 14 members of Local 305, including the probationary officers, pay 9% of their salaries into their pensions, Carlino said that the $28,000 salary for novice officers does not stack up well with those for comparable grades elsewhere in the state.
“It is really, really low,” he said, adding that the Jamestown salary for a “top step” patrolman ranks 17th in the state.
Members of Local 305 also pay 20% of their health insurance costs (except for four officers “grandfathered” as non-contributing into the contract). Union members who retire immediately after 20 years of service – a minimum negotiated into the current contract – are entitled to 50% of base pay, but are limited to individual health insurance benefits.
“Historically,” Carlino said, “Jamestown officers stay on the force way past the minimum retirement age, which means they keep paying into their pension plan. That’s one of the reasons our pension plan is so well funded in comparison to other towns in the state.”
Carlino also spoke to the belief held by some residents that the Jamestown force is overstaffed.
“We have a minimum of two police officers on the road at any time,” he said. “When I came on, the minimum was one, and that was a scary situation if you were responding to a call about a break-in or a drunken party that was turning violent. Going back to a level below two would not be safe for us – or you.”
In one incident requiring back up, Carlino said he had to wait 20 minutes for a state police officer to drive in from Tiverton. Incidents don’t always result in arrests, but their volume is daunting, Carlino added.
In fiscal year 2008-09, the Jamestown police department responded to 914 incidents, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. That total, along with an overall total of 15,222 calls that came into headquarters during that year, does not support an argument that 12 officers are too many “to cover Jamestown 24/7/365,” Carlino said.
“A lot of kids from other towns come to Jamestown because they know there are only two officers on the road,” Carlino added, pointing out that the number of arrests for driving under the influence has increased from seven in FY 1999-2000 to 73 in FY 2008-2009. “I think it’s always been a problem, but now that we have some federal grant money provided for DUI investigations, we’re seeing the numbers snowball – and they indicate that drunk driving is an enormous problem in Jamestown.”
Noting that a DUI arrest requires three to four hours in postarrest paperwork, Carlino added that federal grants for drug investigations has demonstrated as illusory any assumption that “there isn’t much in the way of drugs, here. If we had a larger department, we could run many more investigations, but everyone here knows all our faces. Fortunately, the police in neighboring towns help us out.”
Asked what the union hopes for in its upcoming negotiations with the town, Carlino said, “A cost of living increase,” and added, “We made a huge concession in our last negotiation, when we gave up the first shot at dispatcher overtime. Previously, an officer had the first shot, but now, the dispatchers union has the first shot. [Because the members of that union are paid less], the town is saving about $14,000 a year.”
Consultant Amy Gallagher, who last week presented a comparison of public and private sector health benefits to the Town Council on behalf of the Taxpayers Association, reprised her argument that the town and unions must invite multiple insurance providers to submit bids.
“When you bring more people to the table, you leverage down your costs,” she said.
Carlino said the union would be perfectly willing to entertain multiple bids, adding, “During the last negotiation, the town never offered that option.”
But there are other things we can look at besides health care costs, said former Town Council member Barbara Szepatowski.
“It’s disturbing to see the sentences for crimes involving guns and drugs pled down or suspended. We see these people back in town and driving around. Why don’t we have a municipal court here? It would be an opportunity to bring in fees and impose stricter sentences. Would the police department accept a municipal court? We set aside money for one four years ago,” she said.
Chief Tighe replied, “The Charter has been revised for us to have one, so it’s up to the council and the town administration to do it.”
Other questions to, and answers from, various police offi- cers, included the following:
Q: “Why are you patrolling Rt. 138 and not the state police?”
A: “They’re not around as much as you think, and, after 8 p.m., they have only one car for all the towns from Jamestown to the Fall River line. It’s also in our interest to be because it helps keep speeds down, and we don’t have to spend every other day investigating serious or fatal accidents.”
Q: “Does the state reimburse the town for patrolling the state parks on the island?”
Q: “Why is 15 minutes and one second [of police business] counted as an hour?”
A: “It’s not, in practice, because common sense tells you, ‘Don’t put in for the full hour if all you spent was a little over 15 minutes.”
Q: “Why are police eligible for overtime if you work in the union hall?”
A: “We’re not. There is no overtime for that.”
Q: “Would a municipal court require us to build a multi-million dollar courthouse?”
A: “No. It would only require the council to appoint a judge.”