Springfield police chief asks for more helpBy Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | November 22,2012SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Police Chief Douglas Johnston has asked for extra officers every year for the past three or four years, but this year he hopes the Select Board will agree.
Johnston has asked for two additional officers in the proposed 2013-2014 budget, parts of which were released earlier this week by Town Manager Robert Forguites.
Johnston, the town’s longtime chief, said in past years, the region’s poor economy told him what the Select Board didn’t have to.
But Johnston, faced with increasingly serious crime in town, including a downtown incident that led to a man facing an attempted murder charge in an alleged dispute over gang allegiance, is hopeful he has the town’s support as well.
“They want us to do foot patrol and work more in the schools, but to do that, we need more staff,” said Johnston, whose 16-officer department is down two officers already.
Earlier this week, Terrick Craft, the Springfield man accused of the attempted second-degree murder, was back in court on bail review. But taped recordings of phone conversations Craft allegedly made from the state prison in Springfield caught him on tape saying he wanted to “take over the town” and that the July 9 shooting was just a taste of the violence the town faced. Craft is married to a local woman, and he had requested to be released to live with her in Springfield, along with her children. No decision was made on his bail request.
Craft, 28, who has lived in Springfield for four years, was heard saying, “This little town, we’re taking over.”
In a letter to the Select Board included in the proposed budget, Johnston said that he would create another lieutenant’s position, which in turn would free other officers from paperwork, and get more hours out on the streets.
“These are our needs. It’s got to the point, we can only do so much with what we have,” Johnston said.
“The crimes we are starting to see are getting more and more serious. I’ve been told we should have one officer per 500 population. If that is the case, we’re two officers short,” he said.
The department has 16 full-time officers, including Johnston and Lt. Mark Fountain.
“This second position would allow for proper supervision and accountability of the police department,” he wrote in the letter. “The sooner these changes can be implemented the better the service we can deliver to our community.”.
The chief said Springfield is seeing an influx of out-of-state drug dealers, who can buy drugs in the metropolitan area and resell it in Springfield at four times the price.
Heroin is currently the illegal drug of choice in the region, he said, along with prescription drugs that people are abusing.
Johnston isn’t the only department head asking for additional staffing: Springfield Fire Chief Russell Thompson has also asked for two additional staff, citing increasing demands on the department and the ambulance crew.
Forguites said it would be up to the Select Board to decide whether the town supported the two requests and could pay extra taxes.
He said that no other town departments had asked for additional staff, and in fact the town office had decreased by one employee in the finance department.
“There’s no question that we can always use additional personnel, it’s a question of having to pay for it,” Forguites said.
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