Petersham chief seeks additional full-time officer

  • Petersham Police Chief Dana Cooley explained his 2019 budget request seeking addition of a full time officer, to the selectmen and finance advisory committee Tuesday night. Left to right — Henry Woolsey, Selectmen vice chairman, Administrative Coordinator Steven Boudreau and Chief Cooley. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/DEBORRAH PORTER

Staff Reporter
Thursday, March 01, 2018

PETERSHAM — Police Chief Dana Cooley cited the recent high school shooting in Florida while making a case to hire an extra full-time officer.

At his annual budget review with the Selectboard and Advisory Finance Committee, Cooley said his department has sacrificed to keep its budget flat-funded for the past six years. This year, however, he is including a $44,772 budget request to hire a full-time officer to provide greater coverage to the 65 square miles in town.

Since the Florida shooting, he said, he has had numerous inquiries as to how he will protect the community in the event of a similar scenario. There are 120 students and staff at Petersham Center School and more than 20 at the Montessori School. The schools are adjacent to one another and share the same landscape.

Cooley, the only full-time officer on duty in the daytime, said, “I can’t give the town adequate protection by myself, and am asking for an extra full-time officer.”

Cooley said it is important to increase police coverage during the day.

“If we had an active shooter situation, it would be difficult,” he said, “The best scenario I could come up with right now is I’m the only one going through that door — back-up would be 10 minutes away.”

With a second full-time officer, the department could increase regular patrols in town, at the schools and other areas and businesses, such as The Quabbin Retreat.

“If we get called two separate ways, we have the town covered,” he said.

The new full-time officer would be on duty from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 8 a.m to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Cooley envisions the officer functioning as a patrol officer, school resource officer, D.A.R.E. officer and providing flexibility for court appearances and overtime duties.

The chief, who visits Petersham Center School every day, said though Montessori is a private school, it is located in his town and he is responsible for protecting everyone there. He has been contacted by both schools and plans to hold an open forum.

“People want to know how I’m going to protect their children,” he said.

The selectmen and Finance Committee said they understand the reasoning behind his request and asked him to explain the reasoning behind increases in other areas, such as the overtime. He said he covers a lot of the shifts. He also covers when the part-time officers call out, which he says is frequent, and when an officer has to report to court.

The part-time salaries jumping $27,602 (from $31,912 to $59,514) was also questioned. Cooley explained that is to close the gap in coverage from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and to increase coverage to 11 p.m. on Sundays.

He noted that one police cruiser, which has more than 100,000 miles on it, is due to be replaced this year. Also, in-service training at the school increased from 24 hours to 32.

The department must purchase two bulletproof vests for $1,200. Cooley said donations made in memory of his mother, Mary Cooley, who died Feb. 10, and earmarked for the police department, will be used for that purpose.

“She wanted the money to go for that,” he said.

Other increases include $2,000 in anticipation of rising gas prices and $200 for tire replacement. Training seminar costs increased from $1,000 to $1,500, and annual municipal police officer training went from $250 to $1,250. A $250 increase in taser cartridges is also sought.

Unknown are costs associated with responses to areas such as the Quabbin Retreat, formerly occupied by the Sisters of Assumption, which provides outpatient services for adults with dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. The police have responded to one incident with an outpatient and several times for fire alarms set off by contractors working on site. Quabbin Retreat has an agreement with the town to pay $30,000 a year in PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) funds starting in May 2019. For three years,it has paid $22,500 annually, which is rolled into the General Fund each year. Allen said the town should reach out to Quabbin Retreat for a status overview and to provide information on what the facility has for security.

Cooley said he created a capital plan for the police department, and the department is looking at purchasing 10 sets of body armor. He will seek a grant for that.

The selectmen and Advisory Finance Committee said they would take the budget information into consideration and “digest” it, noting the bottom-line increase from $206,975 to $296,955, including an additional full-time officer.

“You have done an excellent job of staying within your budget for several years. We have to have a strong department. They (officers) get good leadership from you,” Selectboard Chairman Nancy Allen said.

“What you put into your department is what you get out of it,” the chief replied.

The selectmen and advisory finance committee asked the chief to “sharpen his pencil” as his request tacks on roughly 70 cents to the tax rate. The chief agreed to think about putting off the new vehicle purchase to allow adjustments within the budget that may accommodate his request for an additional officer.

The boards will discuss the police department budget again in March.

Emergency management control

This budget is level-funded from last year. Asked about the line item for large batteries, Cooley said they are for the large, movable electronic radar sign that will be put out on the roads in better weather. The signs monitor traffic and use software to track speeds and other statistics.

“It slows people down and is a deterrent to speeders," he said. “It lets us know if we need to put a cruiser out there.”

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