|Framingham Police adds officers, seeks to expand its jail diversion program||March 13, 2015|
|Danielle Ameden 508-626-4416||Framingham Tab|
The Framingham Police Department says it has beefed up the force by hiring more officers and shifting certain jobs to civilians to put more feet on the street.
Police Chief Ken Ferguson said the department has brought on 14 new officers with Town Meeting's support over the past two years.
And thanks to a change that officers OK'd through collective bargaining, the department will have four additional cops at roll call. It has been hiring civilians for positions such as crime analyst and business manager, freeing officers who previously held those jobs up to do policing instead, Ferguson told the Finance Committee last week.
Of the total of 18 new officers, Ferguson said two will be on the downtown beat, joining two cops who are already there.
As part of his new budget for fiscal '16, the chief is seeking $22,500 to grow the department a little more by making of its jail diversion counselor positions full-time.
Ferguson said police have been partnering with Advocates Inc. for its jail diversion program for more than 10 years, helping some people who are struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse get into treatment instead of lockup.
He said the problem is "more prevalent now than it's ever been in my career," and said getting help for people, in some cases, is better than arresting them.
"It's a very cost-effective way of dealing with this population," Ferguson said.
The chief said a state grant pays for the two clinicians, one who is now full-time and other part-time, and he is asking the town to make the second position whole.
Doing so would give the department a total of 11 civilian positions, Ferguson said.
The force now has 135 sworn officers, he said, including five who are in field training and four now in the police academy.
Ferguson gained the Finance Committee's unanimous vote of support for the new budget, although member Nancy Wilson at first balked at the idea of adding even half a position.
Wilson said she is concerned about projected budget deficits and the fact the town is using free cash to balance the operating budget, but could make an exception to her desire to not add to the town's headcount.
She referenced the protests about police around the country and fatal shooting of Framingham resident Eurie Stamps by a SWAT team officer in 2011.
She said she was encouraged to hear from the chief that the town's officers are learning from the jail diversion clinicians about how to deal with people struggling with addiction or mental health problems.
"I feel like this is an extremely worthwhile and area that we need to grow," Wilson said.
The proposed $14.1 million budget for police is up 6.2 percent over current spending.
Driven up mainly by contractual increases for salaries, it also includes money for five new cruisers and 30 Tasers, the chief said.
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