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Orange board wants new officer

Will ask for money  at Thursday meeting

ORANGE — A few weeks ago, Police Chief Robert Haigh faced the situation he had been dreading since he took the helm of the understaffed department last year.

After sending every officer on hand to deal with a serious shooting off Main Street, he had only two officers he could call in from home to respond to other crimes happening around town.

If any more 911 calls had come in, Haigh said, “I would not have had enough police bodies to meet the need.”

Haigh added that with the help of state police and Erving, he was able to meet the demands of several crimes taking place at once. But he recalls the situation “stretched the department as far as it was going to go … We just had too few officers to do the job.”

Haigh said the personnel demands of serious violent crimes are frequently high. As was the case with the shooting, many officers were required to simultaneously secure crime scenes, divert traffic, conduct separate interviews of victims, suspects and witnesses, arrest and transport the prisoner, and respond to other calls.

Selectmen are requesting $43,000 from town surplus to hire an additional officer, bringing the department to 11 full-time staff members, including the chief and a school resource officer. Selectmen will request the transfer at the upcoming special town meeting on Thursday .

Haigh said while his department will still have two patrol vacancies, the additional officer will be a major step forward in bringing staffing to a level that meets the demand for service.

Over the past few months, Haigh has been working with Town Administrator Diana Schindler and a consultant from the Collins Center at UMass/Boston to see how the department can get the most bang from every buck in the police budget. After analyzing police statistics and spending, they concluded that the money spent on overtime each year could be better spent on hiring a new officer.

According to Haigh and Schindler, the town will ultimately get more and better police service by filling vacant positions than by asking or requiring regular officers to work overtime.

Haigh said that officers working extra shifts receive 1.5 times their regular pay, so excessive use of overtime workers is expensive.

And while that extra income might sound appealing to some, Haigh said that too much overtime quickly leads to staff burn-out. “Of course, it’s nice to get paid more, but it’s also nice to spend time with your family,” he said.

According to Haigh, every Orange officer works at least some overtime each week. Haigh said that if he has no volunteers, he must order his staff to work double shifts, or come back in, sometimes with just a few hours of rest from their last shift.

The weekend day shifts are always filled by overtime workers. Then there are vacations and holidays, and emergency call-outs for more serious crimes, such as the recent shooting.

Another problem occurs when officers work double shifts. Haigh said officers have no time to fill out reports at the end of their first shift before they start to answer calls on the second shift. As a result, they are forced to write reports that summarize events, rather than detailing each incident in a separate report. Haigh contends accurate reports are not ancillary to proper police work. Full reports are critical to investigations, accurate crime statistics, and future court cases.

Haigh cautioned that if he is able to bring on another officer, the gaping holes in coverage will not be filled immediately. The new hire will need to fill in so that Officer Tim Powling, who was hired this summer can attend the Police Academy for several months. Then Powling will return to Orange, and the new officer will attend the academy. By this time next year, both officers would be fully trained and on the beat.

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