Committee nips and tucks police budget
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff writer | December 13,2012
Police Chief James Baker got most of what he asked for from the Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, though the committee found a few places to trim his 2013-14 budget.
The committee voted unanimously to send the police budget to the full Board of Aldermen at $4,960,915, an increase of $173,322 over last year but a decrease of $69,000 from the number initially put forward by Mayor Christopher Louras.
Baker told the committee that when he initially came on as interim chief, he intended to leave the city with a report recommending how to turn the department around.
“That report would have looked a lot like this budget request,” he said. “If, in fact, we are going to continue to move forward, I believe these are not luxuries we are asking for. These are necessities.”
The single biggest increase is $118,590 in salaries to fund two new civilian positions, one dealing with evidence control and the other with data analysis.
The evidence technician, Baker said, would help correct long-running problems with how the department handles evidence while freeing up the officer presently assigned the task for more investigative work.
The data analyst, Baker said, is part of an effort to change how the department polices the city. He likened the city’s current approach to a state trooper running radar at a spot where the speed limit changes. The spot has never had an accident, Baker said, but is an easy place to catch speeders. Meanwhile, another stretch of road that has been the site of multiple fatal accidents gets no police presence.
Without good data and good analysis of that data, Baker said, it can be hard for a police department to identify the areas that need the most policing.
“You don’t need someone with a policing background,” Baker said. “I’d be happy with an MIT rocket scientist who knows how to crunch numbers.”
The budget also includes a $20,000 increase in computer fees to fund the department’s own IT contractor — Baker said the department’s technology was different from the rest of the city’s and computer problems ate up staff time — and $30,000 in professional services to bring in a mental health clinician.
“I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but I have dealt with cases since I have been there who were on the edge,” he said.
Baker said that police — and all first responders — faced extreme stress and that managing that stress is key to morale. He said that stress is at least part of the cause of bad interactions between the police and public.
The committee cut the $65,000 vehicle fund to $24,000. Baker said the idea was to buy five used police cars. Committee Chairman Sean Sargeant suggested starting with two and spreading the purchases out over a few years, and the committee agreed.
The committee trimmed $8,000 from the $38,000 for vehicle maintenance, $10,000 from the $85,352 for gas, and building maintenance from $60,000 to $50,000. In each case, the aldermen said they expected those items to come in lower based on previous years.