Tisbury Police Ask Expansion

Acting Chief Presents Selectmen With Detailed Proposal to Boost Number of Uniformed Officers By Three Full-Time Slots

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Acting Tisbury police chief Theodore Saulnier presented to the board of selectmen on Tuesday evening a five-page manpower assessment in which he said the police department needs 14 uniformed officers, including a new sergeant and detective. In response, he received the board's backing to apply for a state grant that could result in state funding for three additional officers over a three-year span.

By no means, however, do these two actions conclude the debate between selectmen and the police department, which first arose last October after a resignation that reduced the department to 10 officers. Selectmen agreed last February to allow the department to hire an eleventh officer, but both the police union and then-chief John McCarthy said even an 11-person uniformed staff is inadequate.

Although selectmen allowed the acting police chief to apply for the grant, they have not yet authorized a staffing increase. But the report provides selectmen with information to make an informed decision as to the department's size, and they will continue to discuss the issue with the acting chief.

"In 1980-81, the Tisbury police department had a total of 10 full-time officers, and was using two special officers extensively," Mr. Saulnier wrote in his report. "The population of Tisbury has been on a steady incline from 2,972 in 1980, to 3,128 in 1990, to 3,755 in 2000.

"At nearly a 30 per cent increase in population over the given period," the report added, "one would expect a commensurate increase in demand for police services."

The acting chief said there is an inadequate staffing level to incorporate the style of policing sought by selectmen.

According to the report, among the basic emergency responsibilities of officers is responding to "all fire, medical, as well as police calls."

"At a bare minimum," the acting chief recommends, there should be two officers on duty per work shift to meet the basic emergency response demands. This can not be met at the current staffing level, he said.

The acting chief detailed scenarios he has seen during his nine-month tenure when the current staffing level proved inadequate. One such scenario, he said, is during domestic violence calls, when it is "imperative" that two officers respond.

The report goes on to address special officers who are not fully trained. The selectmen have long opposed the use of such officers in lieu of full-time police officers.

"I have maintained two officers on each shift, but I have only been able to do this by employing special police officers on a regular basis to fill shifts," the chief said in the report. "Since I started, there has been a full-time, year-round special officer. In addition, there have been numerous shifts covered by other special officers."

Mr. Saulnier said the department needs an additional police officer, a sergeant and a detective - the latter two of which would represent additions to the police force.

A sergeant position is needed, the report stated, "to adequately supervise most work shifts," and the detective position is needed "to create continuity during investigations."

The grant would provide $75,000 per officer over a three-year period. After three years, the town would have to front the cost - estimated at an additional $65 in taxes per resident.

The board will also look elsewhere for information to determine the appropriate staffing level for Tisbury's police department. Town administrator Dennis Luttrell has been studying the department's operations for months and will have his own assessment to report.

Two other bodies are working to contribute to the debate. One is the police advisory committee, established in response to a recommendation made by the Wasserman Report, a study of the police department commissioned by the town and released early last year. The seven-member committee, appointed last May, will circulate a survey to town residents to determine what type of police programs the town wants, which will have a direct bearing over what manpower is needed. The survey is due in three months.

Selectmen also have accepted an offer from the report's author, Robert Wasserman, to study the department and evaluate its manpower needs. His study is likely to begin next month.