Even though crime is down 58 percent compared to 1987, the Somerville Police Department projects it will respond to around 30,000 calls for service in 2019.
On June 12, Chief David Fallon represented the department at the SPD’s budget hearing before the City Council Finance Committee of the Whole.
Here’s what could be different from last year (keep in mind this is still just the proposed budget, nothing has been approved):
Personal Services increased by 4.7 percent, Ordinary Maintenance increased by 10.6 percent, and Special Items increased by 223.9 percent. Overall, the police budget (General Fund Expenditures) increased by 5.6 percent.
The ordinary maintenance budget increased to cover a one-time purchase of new ballistic vests, and that significant increase in the special items budget is dedicated to launching a cadet program.
“The mission is to recruit graduating high school students who show an interest in a career in law enforcement, and provide them with an opportunity to experience the challenges and personal rewards of a police career while they pursue a college education,” Fallon said. “Our recruitment will be concentrated within Somerville High School, with focus on outreach towards non-traditional candidates that would increase diversity within the Somerville Police Department.”
For example, there are currently no women or people of color in command staff roles on the Somerville police force, and Fallon and the department are committed to changing that.
Councilor at Large Bill White thanked the chief for including building “a strong community partnership between law enforcement and mental health providers” and providing “trainings to officers that improve police response for individuals and families impacted by mental illness and drug addiction” in their goals review.
“I forget how many chiefs before you I proposed that that be looked at, and it’s so important,” he said. “When you see reports in other communities where somebody was mentally ill and they probably didn’t have to be killed on the spot and to see that our officers here are undergoing that training, I think it makes a big difference so I want to thank you.”
Ward 5 Councilor Mark Niedergang also commended the chief on his work, and asked about cutting officers based on low crime statistics.
“Policing is so much more than the crime numbers,” Fallon said. “Policing is about emergency management, preparing to respond to natural and man-made disasters, and mental health calls.”
He noted that psych emergency calls have increased 541 percent, from 44 calls in FY14 to 282 calls in FY19.
“Even as we’ve seen crime go down, I don’t think we’ve seen the call for service go down,” he said. “Police are playing a greater role in their communities.”
When discussing what funding could be cut, several councilors asked about current vacancies at the various levels of command. Some positions, including two captain and six patrolmen spots, have been open for some time and the councilors wanted to know the status of the hiring process and whether these positions remained vital.
As they reviewed the budget, councilors also asked about various statistics and the status of certain programs. Council President Katjana Ballantyne requested detailed statistics on domestic violence cases, and Councilor at large Will Mbah asked about whether the department was working on establishing a restorative justice program.
The full discussion is available online at the City Council's meeting portal.