UMass police union calls for more officers

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus police officers stand guard at the Southwest Residence Halls in early 2015. The union that represents rank-and-file campus police offers is calling for an increased staffing after levels have dropped to a 20-year low. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2017 10:29:40 PM

AMHERST — With fewer patrol officers for the University of Massachusetts campus despite an increasing student enrollment, the police union is calling on officials to quickly add more staff.

The union representing the rank-and-file members of the UMass Police Department contends that the department is at a 20-year low in staffing, even though it is handling around 30,000 calls per year and is facing increasing demands, such as active-shooter incidents, the threat of terrorism and implementing quality-of-life community policing.

“It’s kind of a scary situation right now,” William Chapman, president of the New England Police Benevolent Association Local #190, said Monday.

Seven years ago, UMass police employed 62 staff — 45 patrol officers and 17 others in supervisory roles. In 2017, though, the number of patrol officers was cut by one-third, to 31, with six assigned to non-patrol duties.

“That’s really, really low when you think about it,” Chapman said.

In addition, four of the 31 officers are currently out on work-related injuries. Three of these, Chapman said, were injured in an incident nearly a year ago.

Chapman said he and other patrol officers are worried that UMass is gambling with the safety of those who study and work on campus, noting that during a typical day there are usually just three patrol officers, and one supervisor, on duty at any given time.

The reduced number of patrol officers is also leading to burnout, with many being asked to do double duty of 16 hours, meaning back-to-back shifts, or to work on scheduled days off, union officials said. Retaining officers, even with overtime being paid, is made more difficult, Chapman said, and injury rates and sick level usages are up.

“We don’t want to see our officers hurt due to lack of manpower,” Chapman said.

UMass Police Chief Tyrone Parham took issue with any suggestion that his department is understaffed.

“It is erroneous to say our campus is dangerous or safety is under threat due to our present staffing, and it undermines the hard-earned trust that the officers have earned within our campus community,” Parham said in a statement.

Chapman said the biggest loss to the department came in 2016, when five officers departed in one month.

He acknowledges that the university has taken steps to address the concerns, recently hiring seven new recruits, but they will not be able to do solo patrols until next summer, after going through the academy and doing field testing.

“They haven’t restocked the patrol officers in a timely manner,” Chapman said.

Parham acknowledged that the department needs to replenish its ranks in the wake of recent departures, and he said it is in the process of doing so.

The department is budgeted for 62 officers. There are now 51 sworn officers, seven officers in training at the academy, and four vacancies being filled, according to Parham.

“All sworn police officers, regardless of rank or assignment, are available to respond to matters of public safety and do so as needed,” he said in the statement. “At our current staffing level, we continue to respond in a timely fashion to calls to ensure public safety.”

While UMass has mutual aid agreements with other agencies, including Amherst and Hadley police, there are problems with getting outside help. Among those are access to dormitories on campus, which require electronic swipe cards, and difficulty in communicating between the UMass dispatcher and out-of-town officers.

The union’s solutions have included temporarily hiring retirees on a part-time basis and utilizing the Western Massachusetts Mutual Aid agreement to assist when events on campus strain the department.

Meanwhile, the union is worried that supervisory positions have increased as patrol officers dwindle. The department has 11 sergeants, of whom one is an acting sergeant, six lieutenants, and a second deputy chief, a position that remained unfilled prior to 2012.

The union contends that salaries for patrol officer vacancies are being used to fund the additional supervisory positions.

 Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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