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Finding solutions to police training mandates

Collaboration is the key

Bernardston Police Chief James Palmeri

Bernardston Police Chief James Palmeri Purchase photo reprints »

BERNARDSTON — When the state announced it would not fund training it mandated for police officers, Chief James Palmeri wondered how he was going to pay for classes and overtime.

“At first look, it was nerve-wracking, trying to figure out how to train all 10 officers,” said Palmeri.

In July, the state told its police chiefs that it would require each officer to receive 32 hours of training, which it would no longer pay for. Specifics on the training requirements would follow. This month, those specifics came.

“The good news, for us, is that it only applies to our three full-time officers,” said the chief, who will also need to receive 32 hours in training.

In the past, said Palmeri, the state has offered free yearly training at police academies. Then, the chiefs just needed to pay each officer for their time, and bring in other cops to cover shifts when the normal officer was in the classroom. This year, however, the departments were left to seek out and pay for instructors on their own.

The state had never set a minimum for training hours before this year. Palmeri was relieved to learn that, as long as three basic areas were covered, chiefs could use their own discretion for how those 32 hours of training break down. Also, training in other subjects can be used toward the 32-hour goal.

“A lot of it can be done online,” he said.

Palmeri feels the most important area of focus is legal updates, which, along with first responder and defensive tactics, are required this year.

“We can easily do eight hours of legal update training a year,” said Palmeri.

“Every year, laws change,” he said, whether it be through the legislator, citizens’ votes, or case law — precedents set in the decision of court cases or appeals.

For example, he said, a new law means that juveniles can no longer be arrested or detained in police lockup for being designated a “child in need of services.” Instead, they must be placed in protective custody and brought to a certified juvenile services facility.

If an officer made an arrest, or locked up a kid under these circumstances, it could result in legal trouble for the department, said Palmeri.

He said the Northwest District Attorney’s Office is compiling the year’s legal updates for the county’s departments.

Palmeri said he’s partnered with the town’s Fire Department for CPR and first-responder training, a practice he will continue.

Collaborations like that are key to making training available for the county’s cash-strapped police departments. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, the Northwest DA’s office, and the Franklin County Chiefs of Police Association are teaming up to offer several trainings at no cost to the county’s police departments.

Annual firearms training has regularly been conducted in-house, and that won’t change, said Palmeri. He said it’s standard practice for police departments to have one of their officers certified by the state to provide it. It involves time at the shooting range, and in the classroom.

Now, said Palmeri, he’s just got to come up with about $1,500 to cover shifts while officers are on out-of-town trainings.

“It’s hard to tell if it’s within the budget,” he said. “It’s a tight line. It would have to come out of the overtime budget.” He said he’s currently about a third of the way through his overtime budget, which is right on schedule.

He said that wouldn’t have been a problem if he had known about the mandate while putting together the year’s budget.

“I’ve only got three full-time officers,” said Palmeri. “I don’t know how some of the bigger municipalities’ departments are going to do it.”

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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