FRAMINGHAM – Framingham Police Chief Steven Trask told members of the Framingham City Council’s finance subcommittee his department is understaffed by as many as 20 police officers, on Saturday during a budget presentation.
Trask said he has 9 vacancies out of 135 police officers. But the police chief also has an additional 9 officers out with an injury or illness.
And on Sunday, another officer went out on long-term medical leave, to increase that number to 10
Since Trask became chief, he has lost one police officer to the Massachusetts Environmental Police. One Framingham police officer transferred to Massachusetts State Police. One police officer left the department to join the Framingham Fire Department, and two are seeking a lateral transfer to the Webster, Massachusetts Police Department.
There are another 5-6 officers looking to join the Massachusetts State Police, and four officers will be deployed soon, as part of their military obligations, said Trask.
Last year, Framingham added a dozen new police officers to the department, including 6 in December.
But as fast as the department is adding officers, it is losing them.
Framingham is a civil service community, which means to join the police department one must take an exam. Veterans and Framingham residents get priority on the exam list.
Framingham has exhausted its current civil service exam list, which had hundreds of names on it.
“There are no more Framingham residents on the (current) list,” Trask told Councilors on Saturday.
Trask said he is now interviewing potential police officers, who live in Springfield, Holyoke, and Pittsfield.
“The list we are working off of now is more than 2 years old,” said Trask to Councilors.
Knowing the department is short staffed, the City of Framingham and the Framingham Police created a recruitment video last fall.
The video was created to encourage individuals to take the Civil Service exam in March 2019.
The results of that list should be available in September, that is when Framingham will get a new Civil Service list, giving once again preference to Framingham residents and Veterans.
Trask said he continues to hire to try to get the department to full staffing, but that the hiring process is long.
The chief said if he hired a police officer today, it would be 18 months before that officer could be in a police cruiser on their own.
Police officer candidates must go through a background check, attend the police academy for 20+ weeks, and then spend another 12 weeks with a field training officer in Framingham, before they can “handle calls on their own,” explained the Chief.
Councilors questioned why the chief did not request additional staffing within the Mayor’s budget, which starts on July 1.
The Mayor submitted a level services budget for the Police Department, with no additional staffing.
Trask said if he was at full staff he would be fine, but the issue is that he is down 20-plus officers.
“I am very concerned about your staffing,” said District 8 Councilor Judy Grove.
Grove said a consultant, Jennifer Flagg, mentioned the need for additional staffing in her report last year, and the issue has yet to be resolved.
Trask told the City Council’s finance subcommittee he was not prepared to discuss the Flagg report on Saturday, but that he is scheduled to come before the full Council this summer to discuss it.
Trask said police recruitment and staffing is a nationwide problem. He said many departments are seeing fewer candidates apply to become police officers.
But the problem in Framingham goes beyond just that one excuse.
Because the department is so short staffed, many officers are being asked to work overtime often – thus 16-hour shifts.
But many of the Framingham Police Officers would prefer to work a private detail than a second for Framingham Police.
The main reason – money.
Framingham police officers can earn more money working a private detail than 8 hours of overtime for the City of Framingham.
“The detail rate in Framingham is $11 an hour more than an overtime rate for a patrolman,” said Trask, who added it was something he wanted to change.
“We need to increase the wage we pay police officers in Framingham,” said Tras, who said when he started the overtime rate was higher than the detail rate.
The rate a police officer is paid and his/her overtime rate must be negotiated with a new contract.
Mayor Yvonne Spicer is budgeting $950,000 in overtime for the police department for fiscal year 2020, which starts on July 1.
The overtime costs for the current fiscal year is about $1.1 million.
“That is what you get when you are down 20 officers,” said Trask.
In regards to losing officers to other departments, Trask said the “highest paying departments are the ones getting the best applicants.”
Also, the Massachusetts State Police changed its process for hiring about 4-4 years ago, allowing officers to transfer in more easily. That has hurt local departments, but none more than Framingham, where State Police headquarters is located.
We are “technically down 9 vacancies. Down to 4 shortly, as we will be interviewing folks shortly,” said Trask.”But I may lose 6-7-8 (officers) before these 5 get out of the academy. It is two steps forward and three steps back.”
Trask said 5 new officers should start the academy in two weeks, but he will soon have 4 deployed for military service to Japan for a year, and the City will pay a portion of those salaries, even though the officers are not in Framingham.
City Councilor George King suggested Chief Trask send more officers to the academy than just 5, this month.
“Why not send 10?” said King.
Trask said he was limited to 6, due to training in house.
“You’re never going to catch up,” said King to Chief Trask.
“It’s very difficult to catch up,” replied Trask.
But while Framingham is short staffed, that means fewer officers on the streets per shift and fewer officers available to answer calls.
Mayor Spicer is proposing a $15,010,945 budget for the Framingham Police, a 2.8% increase over the current budget.
Of that budget, $13,495,880 or 89.9 % of the budget is staff.
Chief Trask told Councilors his goals for the next fiscal year, is to:
Prepare for the department’s re-accreditation in 2022
Continue to hire recruits for academy to fully staff department
Address and implement Flagg report recommendations
The City Council’s finance subcommittee will make a recommendation on the police department’s budget to the full Council to vote on in June.