Shared police services in Groton won't occur without the 'political will' to make it happen

Groton - Groton's three police chiefs were speaking to the Town Council last week about a study that recommended ways to save money when a councilor asked the director of emergency management for his thoughts.

"I don't think there's anything in that report, any of the suggestions in that report that (aren't) doable," Joseph Sastre replied. "I think it takes the political will to do it. I think it needs to get leadership from the top to do it. And I'm fairly comfortable in that, if that desire, the political will, the drive from the leadership is to do it, then it can be done."

Yet at the end of the meeting no clear decision was made, and it was unclear what, if anything, would happen next.

Groton has three police departments - in the town, city and Groton Long Point - and every year at budget time town leaders raise the issue of consolidation as they look for ways to save money.

A study by the Police Executive Research Forum looked at the three departments and recently recommended the town and city consolidate dispatch and jail services and collaborate on criminal and narcotics investigations. The study also said the town and city could work together on marine and dive responses.

So the council called the three police chiefs in to discuss it. Each said they'd support collaborating on investigations and marine and dive responses, but Councilor Bruce Flax said those wouldn't necessarily result in fewer officers or real savings.

The chiefs said they already work together formally and informally, and have for years. But when it came to changing dispatch, records and jail services, they said that would be more complicated than people realize.

City Police Chief Thomas Davoren said eliminating dispatchers wouldn't save the city money because someone would have to be at the station, and having the town handle prisoners could create other problems.

"Right now, if, we have, for example, two officers on the road, and one of them (is) tied up with a prisoner and then all of the sudden there's a significant event on the road that requires two officers to go, we can throw the prisoner in the cell," he said.

If the officer were tied up in town or couldn't leave the prisoner because the station was unattended, the department might need another officer on the shift.

"We can't afford to have an officer staffing the lobby," Davoren said. "It's twice the cost of what we pay for a dispatcher."

Groton Long Point Chief Jeff Nixon said he'd support moving toward study recommendations but the ultimate decision would be up to the Groton Long Point board of directors.

He also said investing in a new records system to more easily share information would cost money and take time. He said the state is putting together a system for data sharing, and Groton could invest in one only to find out later it's redundant given what the state is doing.

Flax said he was frustrated by the idea that efficiencies can't be found.

"Every budget year we talk about it and the city says 'No, we can't,'" Flax said. "I get it. There's a good reason why you can't, but we're never going to get past that if we don't at least talk about it."

Another councilor suggested referring the matter to a council subcommittee.

Councilor Harry Watson said Sastre hit the nail on the head.

"There needs to be the political will to do something about it," he said. "Because all three of you run great police departments ... We talk about regionalization and I talk about Groton and we talk about other towns sharing things, and then I say to people, 'We have three police departments in our town.' I mean, how can you talk about regionalization?"

Watson said he'd like to understand things better so he can make a decision, and if there were a committee on the issue, he'd serve on it. But it was unclear at the end of the meeting whether a committee on the police study would be formed.

At the end of the conversation, someone joked, "Now we can close the books on this and put it in a file."

Mayor Rita Schmidt replied, "No, we can't."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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