Public safety and the economy

Fighting crime isn’t easy during a budget crisis

By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.

For the Transcript

Winthrop Police Lieutenant Terence Delehanty, executive officer in charge of the department, said this week that most crime indicators are on the rise through the first two months of 2009, even as budget cuts have forced layoffs in the department, leaving fewer officers to respond to emergencies and calls for help.

“We are on target so far to meet or exceed all of the major reporting categories from last year to this year” said Delehanty.

In 2008, police records show there were 908 incident reports filed with local police, 308 arrests, 68 field interrogation/observations reported by officers and 592 citations issued.

By contrast, in just the first two months of 2009, there have already been 100 citations issues, and Delehanty noted that winter months are typically the slower time of the year for crime reports, arrests and citations.

“We’re not even a quarter of the way through the year and we’ve still got to get through the busy summer months, when there are more kids around and just more calls for service in general,” said Delehanty. “We’re doing all of this with substantially fewer people on duty than in years past.”

Delehanty pointed to societal woes like the current economic recession and high unemployment rate as reasons for the uptick in crime and criminal incidents.

“The economy is definitely playing a factor,” he said. “We’ve seen a major increase in shoplifting in all commercial sectors of the town, but we’re just seeing the stress of the recession working on all areas. With higher stress, people are more apt to act out in a violent manner, especially at home with their loved ones.”

Delehanty noted police are also seeing an increase in the number of domestic violence calls they are receiving along with other types of reported assaults.

“Like I said, when people are feeling the stress from worrying about their job or worrying about paying their bills, it shows up in different ways,” he said.

Delehanty noted recent attacks among youth (see related story) and violent crimes on innocent bystanders, saying the department needs the resources to properly protect the town.

“Of course, we are pursuing any grant opportunities that may be available, but to be honest, the town won’t even know if we’re eligible to get any aid from the federal government until at least June or July, and we’ll already be in our busy season,” said Delehanty. “Our best hope of dealing with the increase in crime in town is if town residents agree to give us the resources we need through an override.”

Delehanty said at the least, a successful Proposition 2 1/2 override would enable the town to get police staffing levels back to where they were at the start of the 2009 fiscal year, in July 2008.

Loss of SROs takes its toll on youth, department

By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.

For the Transcript

For the last several years, Winthrop Police have been engaged in a partnership with local schools.

School resource officers (SROs) stationed at Winthrop High School and Middle School have played a major role in helping to foster a better relationship between students and police, as well as between police and school officials. Crime among the town’s youth had decreased dramatically in many categories, especially in youth violence.

However, the recent budget decision to remove SROs from the schools and put those officers back on patrols throughout town has not only fractured that partnership with the schools and students, but has resulted in an increase in youth crime, including youth violence.

“You don’t even have to look at the crime reports to know that youth involved crimes have risen across the town,” said Police Lieutenant Terence Delehanty, executive officer in charge of the police department. “The loss of the SROs hasn’t just affected the way we deal with youth violence; it has changed the way we manage the patrol division and the way that the schools are forced to deal with students during the day.”

As one example of the terrible consequences that have come from the loss of SROs in the schools, Delehanty pointed to a recent double stabbing in a beach area neighborhood in late February.

“We never had youth involved in a double stabbing in town, and if we did have a stabbing or violent crime incident with youth, it would always take place in the summertime,” he explained. “With the SROs, a lot of the time, those school-based officers would know about the issues between a couple of kids or a group of kids and they’d work to resolve it, or at least intercept it before it got that far. The situation we’re in now puts more pressure on the patrol staff to handle problems after they’ve already gone too far.”

Another consequence of losing SROs’ presence in schools is that the close, daily communication between officers and school officials isn’t as common now, so patrol officers are less informed about the everyday types of issues that arise between youths in a school building.

“With the SROs, we had a better line of communication with the schools, and that’s where everything starts with the kids,” he said. “Having to take those officers out of the school has hurt our ability to work with kids and this helped them stay out of trouble. We just don’t have any other choice right now.”

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