WOBURN - Despite a transition to a new chief, the Woburn Police Dept. received a highly-favorable review from an independent study team that released its report to the City Council’s Public Safety & Licenses Committee this week.
“In many areas, Woburn was superior to other communities,” said Bruce MacDougall, a former Methuen Police Chief who was in charge of Municipal Resources Inc.’s police evaluation team. “In this report, there are 139 recommendations. I’ve done reports with 250 (recommendations).”
MacDougall attributed Woburn’s good standing to its accreditation by the Mass. Police Accreditation Committee for a number of years.
“To my delight and surprise, they were already doing many of the policies and procedures that are recommend,” said MacDougall. “They’re in better shape than most.”
The MRI team did identify some areas that could lead to a better department, including combining dispatch services with the fire department, hiring civilian dispatchers, reducing the number of vehicles in the fleet, equipping officers with tasers, adding a fifth patrol cruiser and making the use of protective vests mandatory rather than optional.
“We feel strongly the policy (for vests) should be changed,” said MacDougall.
In the past few years, two Woburn police officers have been shot in the line of duty. Patrolman John Maguire was killed in an exchange of gunfire while responding to a robbery at Kohl’s department store in East Woburn, while patrolman Robert DeNapoli was wounded during another jewelry robbery at Musto’s Jewelers in West Woburn.
Woburn Police Chief Robert Ferullo, who was promoted in 2011 to lead the department, said his staff has already complied with many of the recommendations since the survey team began its evaluations last April.
“There are no knockout punches in here,” said Ferullo.
MacDougall said the department should reduce the number of vehicles in the department from 40 to around 32, which is standard for a city the size of Woburn.
“The police department holds onto vehicles well beyond their time,” he said. “It’s an old and tired fleet.”
The MRI team also recommended the addition of lap top computers to every police vehicle, including all unmarked cars.
The combined dispatch operations manned by civilians would put more uniformed officers on the street, the MRI survey noted.
“The uniformed patrol is understaffed and running too thin, especially on the midnight shift,” said MacDougall.
The team also recommended adding a second detective to the drug unit, and another school resources officer at the middle/elementary level. Currently, there are two SROs, one for the high school and one for the rest of the district.
MacDougall added, however, the department does “an exemplary job” with outreach programs.
MRI outlined a proposed change to the services division, adding eight new civilian dispatchers and moving the school resources unit to the criminal investigations (i.e. detective) division.
“Woburn is behind the move to civilian dispatchers,” said MacDougall. “Most, but not all, are civilian-based. Economically, a civilian costs less than a police officer.”
Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately agreed the 1-man cars, especially late at night, are “kind of a scary situation of not having enough manpower.”
Upon questioning by Ward 7 Alderman Raymond Drapeau, MacDougall identified several issues with the facilities, including enhancing security at police headquarters.
“There’s too much going on in society right now to be not protective of that facility,” said MacDougall.
Mayor Scott Galvin noted some of the facilities issues have been addressed by the repair of the roof at the station, and the completion of the new dispatch center earlier this year. Ferullo also reported some other “short-term corrections” to the jail cells and the locker room for female officers.
Ferullo said he has identified seven instances since the beginning of the year when tasers could have been used as an effective tool, and he did not seem opposed to introducing them into the department.
Asked by Ward 1 Alderman Rosa DiTucci what is the biggest obstacle to complying with MRI’s recommendations, Ferullo said “the money issue.”
“It’s a great road map,” said the chief, of the report. “There’s nothing that’s insurmountable here. Civilian dispatchers, that’s a big decision, and do we need a fifth (officer) on the street.”