New Bedford police at odds over staffing levels

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) — Police department’s efforts to reach adequate staffing levels and improve recruiting and retention have been an ongoing issue across the country, and that’s being felt across Southern New England as well, with departments like New Bedford, Fall River, Providence and more dealing with these very problems.

In New Bedford, the police department’s union is at odds with city leadership, and union members are now calling for the city to address this before it’s too late.

Recently, the New Bedford Police Union has criticized Chief Paul Oliveira and Mayor Jon Mitchell for failing to recruit and retain staff.

“We’re down an awful lot of officers more than 40 officers at this point,” Mitchell said. “[This] doesn’t put us at a crisis level, and crime in New Bedford is low compared to similar cities, but [this isn’t] not a positive trend.”

In a post shared to the union’s Facebook page, it said in part: “There is no way to dance around it. The situation is dire. Meaningful change must be made and time is of the essence. These are the situations when leadership is needed most. Members of both the public and the police deserve it. The city of New Bedford cannot afford to allow the outflow of qualified officers to neighbor agencies to continue without at least attempting to positively address it.”

Mitchell told ABC 6 News that the police department and union are currently in contract negotiations and said these complaints could be negotiation tactics by the police union.

Speaking to ABC 6 Tuesday, the mayor said the standards the city is looking for haven’t changed, but that New Bedford, like many cities in the United States, doesn’t have as many candidates who are willing to become police officers that meet the standards, and that effect is now being felt by the staff currently in the building

“What it’s forced the department to do is force the officers to take overtime shifts and that’s what concerns me,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he’s aware of many officers who have been overworked due to working more hours, to avoid having any shifts where they are low-staffed, as well as avoid any slower response times.

Oliveira declined an interview, but echoed the mayor’s message of the issues they’re faced with: “The police profession is navigating uncharted waters as we all deal, nationwide, with a hiring and retention crisis. Police chiefs have a responsibility to strike a delicate balance between officer safety and public safety, while also acknowledging the importance of officer health and wellness.”

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