Groton police departments discuss ways to cooperate

Groton - The town and city police chiefs don't want to use the word "consolidation," but both said they would be willing to discuss collaborations if they would improve services and save taxpayers money.

A study of Groton's three police departments released Nov. 7 urged the town and city to consolidate dispatch and jail services and to collaborate on criminal and narcotics investigations. The study also recommended changes such as having the town integrate its dispatch and records systems.

Town Police Chief Michael Crowley said Monday the departments would have to discuss logistics and what would work.

"If we can share services and benefit the departments, enhance investigative efforts and save taxpayers money, I think it's a no-brainer," Crowley said.

Groton City Police Chief Thomas Davoren, interviewed Friday, said he would be willing to discuss collaborating on investigations and the marine dive team, but he said absolute consolidation "is probably not something that is on the table."

Mayor Marian Galbraith said in an email, "The city is not opposed to finding efficiencies as long as those efficiencies continue to serve the needs of the residents of both the city and town."

The Town Council is expected to discuss the study at its Committee of the Whole Meeting at 6 tonight in the Town Hall Annex.

Davoren said he's concerned about combining dispatch services unless certain other conditions are met. He said the town would have to integrate dispatch and records, provide adequate staffing to handle increased calls, take over prisoners for the city and then prove the changes save money.

Davoren said the city wouldn't consider combining dispatch service unless the town also took over jail services, because city dispatchers watch prisoners as part of their job.

If dispatchers were gone, it would cost more to hire a uniformed officer, he said. "It's incredibly inefficient to have a cop baby-sitting a prisoner," Davoren said.

City dispatchers also handle other tasks that would have to be done by someone else: monitoring cameras at the schools, handling security at the Municipal Building, taking payments for parking tickets and other tickets and supervising parents exchanging children for weekend custodial visits. People also call the city police department's 10-digit phone line - instead of 911 - for questions about upcoming court cases, road closures, fingerprinting and pistol permits, Davoren said.

But Davoren said if all of those issues were handled and the change was found to be a moneysaver, it could be discussed.

Groton City has a police budget of about $4.75 million, of which about $2.3 million is paid for by the town. The budget includes money for 29 sworn officers' positions - 27 of which are filled - and four dispatchers, 1.5 clerks, a custodian and a secretary.

Thomas Wilson, deputy director of management services for the Police Executive Research Forum, said the study estimated it would cost the town about $1.9 million to provide police service in Groton City and about $27,000 to provide it in Groton Long Point.

Groton Long Point also has its own department. Its budget for the current fiscal year approved by Representative Town Meeting is $250,000.

Genevieve Cerf, elected to the Town Council on Nov. 5, said some items outlined in the study went too far.

"It would essentially cut the city's police budget in half, which I'm quite concerned about, to say nothing of whether the city would accept this large a cut," Cerf said. "I would much rather see us try to see us start combining services."

Cerf said she was surprised to see figures for Groton Long Point, because she'd been told for years it would cost $200,000 for town police to cover the area.

Groton Long Point Police Chief Jeff Nixon, hired in August, said he has to look at the data included in the study. "What we heard and saw the other night bears review," he said Monday.

Crowley said the city and town departments have collaborated in some areas, such as a narcotics task force.

Town Councilor Bruce Flax said he liked that you could take what you wanted from the study; that if you weren't ready for consolidation, you could discuss ways to make areas like dispatch more efficient.

"I think it was good in that it could get people talking," Flax said. "And maybe get people who may not be as familiar with the situation, want to become more familiar with the situation."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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