Tisbury Police Department Size Debated


At a Tisbury police labor management meeting Tuesday afternoon, patrolmen said their own safety and that of the public is jeopardized by having a department of only 11 men.

The union wants an increase in manpower. But selectmen have been considering cutting back the department since more than a month ago, when police chief John McCarthy asked the board's permission to hire a patrolman to replace one who recently retired. Selectman Tristan Israel questioned the need, and the debate was on.

The board has listened to Chief McCarthy's call for more staff at several board meetings, but it was this week that the voice of the union rang out.

Patrolman Mike Marchand told the two town officials in attendance, Mr. Israel and town administrator Dennis Luttrell, "The sole reason we are here today is that it has now come to the point when our department is so diminished in staff that we are concerned for our safety, and so are our families. We want to see our numbers change."

Mr. Marchand said he wanted to hear from the town why the staff numbers are low and the rationale for the possible cutback.

Mr. Israel said, "What we are trying to do now is look at the whole picture. We want everyone in the town taken care of and we have financial concerns. What the board is going through now is having a discussion of the justification of what the staffing should be."

Mr. Israel, emphasizing that he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the other two selectmen, said he was in favor of a smaller department.

Last April, the selectmen voted to decrease the department from 12 men to 11. Around the same time, a study commissioned by the selectmen, entitled the Wasserman report, was released with its analysis of the internal workings of the department. The report was not favorable. Mr. Marchand said, "In the union's opinion, it looks like the vote was done out of spite."

Mr. Israel was quick to explain otherwise. He said that he personally likes a smaller, leaner department. "This is not something that came out of the blue," continued Mr. Israel. "With a smaller department I thought things would work okay. People would be busier."

Mr. Marchand pointed out that the other Island police departments are growing. "The current level of staffing is 10, " said Mr. Marchand, "and we were at that level in 1978."

He said that the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs police departments have grown 50 per cent, the West Tisbury police department has doubled and the Chilmark and Aquinnah police departments have grown 25 per cent.

"All police departments are growing and moving into the next generation of policing," said Mr. Marchand. "But we are not."

He said the Tisbury School is the only school on the Island without a police officer. "We spend money to find out what is wrong with the department," said Mr. Marchand, "but it doesn't seem like we are taking steps to correct it."

Mr. Luttrell asked the patrolmen to give an example of how public safety is being jeopardized. Call response was cited as the biggest factor. Specific scenarios were spoken of, illustrating cases when a lack of manpower posed a safety threat for the officers and those in need.

"The people who came up with the numbers that we are proposing to you today have over 150 years combined experience of patrolling the streets. I have a hard time believing that no matter how much you analyze it or how much study you do on it, you will be able to come up with more rational numbers than what we can come up with," said Mr. Marchand.

The numbers proposed by the union call for 10 full-time patrolmen, an addition of four. As it stands today, the department utilizes six patrolmen, a chief, lieutenant and two sergeants.

The Edgartown police department operates with nine patrolmen, a chief and three sergeants, while the Oak Bluffs department operates with eight patrolmen, a chief, lieutenant and two sergeants.

Mr. Israel said he doubted the board would grant two or more additional patrolmen. Mr. Marchand said, "A 10 or 11-man department are numbers not acceptable to the union. We do not feel safe with those numbers."

In the wake of the Wasserman report, a study that described the department as "dysfunctional," Mr. Marchand said the men's morale needs increasing. "Things are not where they should be," he said. "Morale could be improved, and this could be the way to do it."