Royalston makes request for State Police assistance

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-21-2024 5:10 PM

ROYALSTON – At its meeting on Tuesday, the Selectboard approved a letter to the Massachusetts State Police formally asking for help in meeting the law enforcement needs of the community.

Board Vice-Chair Deb D’Amico explained that she and Royalston Police Chief Curtis Deveneau have met with State Police Troop C Commander Maj. James Bigelow and Lt. Michael Williams, commander of the Athol barracks, to discuss the relationship between the State Police and the town.

“Currently, the State Police do provide coverage for the overnight shift – that’s 11 to 7 – for seven area towns, including Royalston,” said D’Amico. “They consider this part of their role, and they’ll continue to do this.”

She pointed out, however, that the Athol barracks has seen an increase in the number of calls to Royalston during the 3 and 11 p.m evening shift. State Police, said D’Amico, have been covering those calls on an “informal” basis.

“Major Bigelow said that in order for them to continue to do so—and they’re willing to do this as needed—he asked that the Selectboard make a formal request for this coverage in the form of a letter to the major,” D’Amico continued. “In addition to requesting that 3 to 11 coverage, he also requested that we include something called ‘intermittent coverage’ for the day shift, from 7 to 3, because of an increase in calls to respond during that time.”

Responding to calls during the day shift has become a challenge for Royalston’s Police Department due to a reduction in staffing attributed to the sweeping police reform bill passed by the Legislature in December 2020. That law requires that all officers, including part-timers, receive the same amount of training as full-time officers.

According to Deveneau, Royalston has seen its contingent of officers drop from 19 to 9 in recent years, due in large part to the training requirements. He’s said previously that part-time officers often have full-time jobs and can’t allocate the time needed to complete the training. While many small towns in western Massachusetts counties depend solely on part-time officers to staff their police departments, Royalston is the only town in Worcester County dependent on part-time staff, Deveneau said.

D’Amico said that Williams asked Deveneau to provide him with “a monthly roster, indicating the dates and days, when coverage was not going to be provided in Royalston. This will help the State Police to know which days they’re more likely to be called for that daytime shift.”

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According to Bigelow, said D’Amico, the State Police are often asked to respond to calls during the day shift, even when coverage by the Royalston Police is being provided.

“He emphasized,” she said, “that the Royalston Police need to be prepared to cover such calls fully and be ready to be the primary responder.”

The letter prepared by the board spells out that “the Royalston Police Department and the Selectboard, and the State Police, agree that the additional intermittent coverage during the day shift is for the time being. They’re willing to do it, but they don’t see it as a long-term solution,” said D’Amico.

“We see the handwriting on the wall,” said D’Amico. “Part-time departments, in the long run, are not going to work. So we’re working to educate ourselves and figure out what’s the best way to move forward in a thoughtful, responsible way.”

Deveneau said he’s seen how other small communities in western Massachusetts are responding to the difficulties of maintaining a part-time police force.

“They’ve gone through it where they’ve utilized shared resources and also regionalizing,” he said. “So, we see the pros and the cons they’ve run into. We’ll be able to learn a lot from them and hopefully we won’t run into too many pitfalls as we move forward.”

Another law enforcement-related matter addressed that evening included the Selectboard, at the chief’s request, voting to appoint John Muhr as a part-time Royalston Police Officer. Muhr told the board he had 36 years of experience in law enforcement, spending much of that time in Worcester. He told the board he recently moved to Royalston after trying out retirement in Florida, but decided after six months to return to Massachusetts. He said he loves his new home and neighbors and wants to do what he can to help the community.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.