Police Chief Edward Deveau said he talks often about wanting Watertown to have the best Police Department in the state, and he got some confirmation of this from the Public Safety Study released in April.
Deveau said he was comforted by this fact, but added that the department is working short staffed when he appeared in front of the Town Council Tuesday night during a the Fiscal 2013 budget hearing.
The recommended Police Department budget is $7.7 million, up $242,704 from fiscal 2012, Town Manager Michael Driscoll said.
The Matrix Group's report included an assessment that: "It is clear to this project team that Watertown has an exceptional police deparment in comparison not only to other Commonwealth agencies but nationally."
The police are always looking for ways to improve, Deveau said, and he said each day's roll call provides a time to teach the officers something new. At times he will also use it to show officers how well they are doing.
One video, that will be shown to officers this week, shows a couple who were helped by police officers when the husband was having a heart attack. The wife described how quickly, yet calmly, the officers reacted when they got to the house. They used a defibrillator to help save the man's life.
"We make the videos to show what a difference the make on the lives of just an ordinary family in town," Deveau said.
Cool Heads in Dangerous Situations
He also described two incidents where it appeared that officers were dealing with armed suspects. In one, officers were dealing with a cab driver who had been stiffed a fare late at night when a man came out of a home holding what appeared to be a pistol. Police were able to talk him into putting down the weapon without using their own weapons.
"The whole time the officers thought it was a weapon, but it turned out to be a BB gun," Deveau said. "It shows how well the officers responded."
Another time, police went to a home where domestic violence had been reported, and they thought they heard someone loading a shotgun, Deveau said. Police defused the situation and no gun was found.
The Police Department can have up to 47 officers, but Deveau said due to retirements, injuries and other reasons, they currently gave only 41 officers available. Just a few years ago, the department had 55 officers, he added.
The department will get some relief with four candidates currently enrolled in the Police Academy and two more ready to start in September, Deveau said.
The Police Department has lost some programs due to having a smaller staff, Deveau said, including the DARE program and Cops for Kids, where police get to know middle school students.
He worries more may be lost, and said the high school will not have a school resource officer (SRO) next year because the current officer is going on maternity leave.
"If we took somone out of patrol to be SRO, we would not be able to sustain it," Deveau said. "We would need so much overtime coverage."
Another position Deveau said he would like to fill is have an officer be part of the Southern Middlesex County Drug Task Force, a group that includes police departments from several communities in the area.
"We haven't had someone assigned to it for more than a year," Deveau said. "They said we need to step up or step out."
Drug users and the affect of drugs have an impact on Watertown, he said. He suspects the string of home breakins is related to drugs and a drug user.