Police Union Boss: Budget ‘Shell Game’ Is ‘Almost Offensive;’ Hurts City’s Effort to Fight Crime

Mayor James J. Fiorentini delivered remarks during the Haverhill Police Department's memorial service on May 27, 2019. (WHAV News photograph)

On the eve of Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s budget conference with the Haverhill Police Department, the head of the patrolmen’s union is urging the city leader to consider the overall wellbeing of the residents at-large when negotiating a new union contract, up on June 30.

As Haverhill Police Patrolmen’s Association President Rick Welch tells WHAV, that very contract directly impacts the department’s ability to roll out a welcome mat for new employees and, in turn, fight Haverhill’s gang and drug epidemic.

“The city has focused on making downtown more attractive, building new homes and opening small businesses more attractive, but we have yet to make our municipal Public Safety and Education jobs more attractive and competitive,” Welch said.

In 2017, the patrolmen’s union and the City both conducted comparison audits that showed, according to Welch, that Haverhill Police officers are paid between seven and 12 percent less than other officers in comparable cities.

Currently, Haverhill’s Police Department has 95 members. For the 2020 fiscal year, the union is requesting $4.69 million to cover 84 officers. Fiorentini has tentatively approved $4.5 million to cover the salaries of those same 84 officers.

“These issues play directly into our ability—or inability—to attract new employees. It’s no secret that we receive a lower salary, have a very high call volume, and do not offer equivalent incentives as do many other cities and towns. This, coupled with a national decline of interest in law enforcement employment, results in a difficulty to attract new employees or lateral transfers.”

Haverhill recently took in lateral transfers from other cities including Methuen and Lynn when officers Jonathan Pierce and Michael Tortorise joined the force over the last two years.

When Wednesday’s public budget session convenes at City Hall, Welch tells WHAV he hopes Fiorentini will put aside the ongoing “shell game” that he says has gone on in budget sessions’ past.

“I consider it almost offensive to the city councilors and the police department who fought so hard to add positions in the last two years in order to combat the opiate epidemic and gang crimes in our city,” Welch said.

In the meantime, Welch remains hopeful his union will reach a satisfactory agreement, telling WHAV recent negotiations have been “positive.”

As WHAV previously reported, the mayor plans to use half of the city’s so-called “free cash”—or about $5 million—to balance the budget. The total is up 3.2 percent from the current year—or about an extra $6.2 million.

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