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Morency: budget cuts could set PD back "40 years"

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
May 22, 2019
BERLIN — It is no secret that the city of Berlin is struggling financially. As a result, each city department was asked to present a budget that was reduced by six percent. Berlin's Police Chief, Peter Morency, has relayed that if this budget is approved, there will be many ramifications, including the loss of several services. A public hearing on May 22 will take place, and Berlin officials are asking as many residents as possible to appear.

A letter written to the Mayor and City Council from Berlin's Police Commission stated, "Notwithstanding temporary, unavoidable fluctuations in a number of personnel, it is the Commission's position that the current number of sworn full-time police officers employed by the City, cannot be safely reduced. By FBI National Standards, the Berlin Police Department is currently short four full-time officers and two full time support staff positions. We would be remiss to recommend a budget that further diminishes the security of the citizens as well as diminishes officer safety."

A 6.16 percent reduction would result in the reduction of the police force by two officers, restricting law enforcement availability. The Department would be unable to provide DARE training to school children and the Intelligence Liaison position would be eliminated. The Restorative Justice position would be eliminated as well.

The drug task force would be no more as would special detail for events such as the ATV festival that takes place each year. The letter also states that special enforcement details assisted with targeting specific areas of increased criminal activity would be eliminated causing an escalation in the severity of crime. Crossing guards would be ousted as would the Special Response Team. The inability to provide services for outside contracts would result in the loss of associated revenues from Milan among other places.

With the reduction of staff, State Police could respond to emergencies, however by law they are not typically sent to patrol towns or cities with more than 3,000 people. If the State Police do respond, the average response time could be three hours, according to the Commission.

A loss of $159,000 in grant funds such as opioid and highway safety, due to the lack of available personnel for grant funded patrols is another stressor for the Department. Investigative services would also be reduced as two detectives would be placed on patrol.

In closing, the letter states that while the Commission recognizes the challenges the city is facing, they would be negligent to recommend a budget that would affect the safety of the public.

The Commission said, "The ramifications of a $213,200 reduction to the Police Department budget would be a detriment to the community resulting in the additional loss of $242,820 ($153,600 in grant funds and $88,220 in revenues).

Chief Morency offered his thoughts, adding "We are facing financial struggles, and that impact would be tremendous to the services that we provide. We just do so many other things for the community that we wouldn't be able to do anymore."

Morency added, "Rural policing already has complications and we are facing a school funding shortage which would impact us by a couple hundred thousand dollars. In turn, if you multiply that, it comes to roughly $550,000 in lost resources for the department alone."

Morency said, "We would be down to one or two police officers responding to a call in a city of ten thousand people. It's scary."

Morency says he can't emphasize enough all of the positive things the police department does. He said it could put the department back 40 years.

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