By James Niedzinski
---- — ROCKPORT — A meeting between the town’s top two policemen and selectmen, supposedly to sign off on the officers’ contracts, became a discussion of the Police Department’s staffing shortages and scheduling issues.
Selectmen signed an agreement keeping John “Tom” McCarthy as chief of police for another year, giving him a small raise, but discussion of the contract for his second-in-command, Lt. Mark Schmink, devolved into a look at the makeup of the town force.
Schmink’s contract with the town would, if approved, allow him to earn overtime when filling in for other officers, if the offer was passed up by all other personnel and OK’d by McCarthy. The lieutenant is already doing this; the contract would be retroactive.
Selectmen questioned why Schmink would even need to fill in staff gaps and the discussion shifted gears to police staffing and how officers and supervisors are scheduled. The upshot is that selectmen will talk about hiring a new policeman and Schmink’s contract when they meet next Tuesday, Dec. 18.
When Schmink began working for the department in 1994, he estimated police received about 5,000 service calls a year, and now receive about 11,000 yearly, he said Wednesday. The force is also smaller — by two patrolmen and five reserves — than in 1994, which means fewer officers are answering more calls, he said.
Schmink, who is in charge of scheduling, said the force now has four supervisors, ten patrol officers and three reserve staff.
Officers are often ordered to stay late, are called in, or work a double shift, himself included, because there is a gap in the schedule, the lieutenant said. Police take vacation days, personal days, sick days or are injured, too, he added.
“It overlaps perfectly for us to have that coverage — if nobody takes the day off, forever,” he said of the supervisors, of which he is one. “It’s not necessarily about me, it’s about the position and covering the police department.”
Selectmen agreed; Vice Chairman Paul Murphy backed Schmidt’s statements.
“In a small organization, you wear many hats,” he said.
Selectman Frances Fleming said the issues of salary, benefits and overtime should be thoroughly discussed.
“I don’t like the idea of double shifts, it’s harder to be at your best,” she said.
McCarthy clarified; while officers worked doubles, he said nobody is allowed to work more than 16 hours a day — it can become unsafe.
When Murphy asked how often officers and supervisors are asked to work doubles, Schmink said it happens “almost every single day,” them working without complaint.
Fleming said the hiring of another permanent officer should be up for discussion as well.
McCarthy said a first-year officer earns a salary of about $45,000; with all benefits and amenities, such as clothing and gun allowances, a new officer would cost the town about $80,000 for the first year.
Schmink said new reserve officers will hopefully be available this summer, after going through proper training and preparation.
“We’re also very fortunate we are small,” Schmink said of the Rockport force. “We have a lot of good people on the department who do step up and do the coverage, otherwise it would be a lot worse.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.