By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — In a rare sign of unity, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to add more police officers to the Police Department on Monday night.
The selectmen approved Police Chief David Breen’s request to hire a patrolman to serve as a school resource officer and traffic enforcement officer. The selectmen also supported Breen’s request to hire another sergeant, which would enable the Police Department to promote Sergeant Nick Secatore to detective.
Breen said the department’s staff currently consists of 11 patrolmen, which are two less patrolmen than the Town Charter requires. He said a patrolman transferred to Peabody recently, while Patrolman Charles Peabody will be retiring on Jan. 3.
According to Breen, a department audit conducted in 2009 revealed that police “staffing levels were barely adequate for the call load.” He noted the audit took place before MarketStreet Lynnfield was built.
Since the audit took place, Breen said a number of new apartments have opened in town such as Arborpoint at MarketStreet and Lynnfield Commons.
“While the population has increased and the dynamic of the town has changed since MarketStreet, so too has the Lynnfield Police Department,” said Breen.
Breen said Lynnfield is the only community in the area that does not have a full-time detective and said the department has been utilizing two part-time detectives who also serve as patrolmen to fill the void.
“It’s not the optimal way to go,” said Breen.
Breen said once the department hires a full-time detective, the detective will be actively involved in criminal cases and will be “sharing information that is vital to solving crimes.”
The police chief said Superintendent of Schools Jane Tremblay and other school officials “have expressed a strong desire” to have a school resource officer. He said Patrolman Ray Barnes previously served as the school resource officer but Breen noted Barnes is currently in charge of the department’s K-9.
Breen also noted that Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill into law this past August that reformed the state’s gun laws. The law requires police departments to assign school resource officers to every school district.
In addition to needing a full-time detective and school resource officer, Breen said Lynnfield needs a full-time traffic enforcement officer to address traffic issues in town. He noted Walnut Street, Salem Street and surrounding areas have experienced an increase in traffic due to MarketStreet.
Breen proposed blending the school resource officer and traffic enforcement officer into one position. Breen said this would be beneficial because the two roles are cyclical and do not overlap each other.
In order to hire the new police officers, Breen recommended that the town hire two officers who are currently looking to transfer from other departments as well as hire two people currently on the eligibility list.
Breen said if the Police Department hires two transfer officers, he said “they could essentially start to fill shifts in one week’s time.” After officers submit an application to transfer to Lynnfield, Breen said a “vetting process” will take place to see “if these are officers we would like to have on board.”
The police chief said it will take time to hire two people currently on the eligibility list. He said it’s paramount for the Police Department to “move quickly” because people hired from the eligibility list will need to go through background checks, the academy and participate in a field-training program.
“It will be almost a year from start to finish before they can start,” said Breen.
In response to a question about scheduling from Board of Selectmen Chairman Dave Nelson, Breen said he will engage in discussions with the police union about which shifts the school resource/traffic enforcement officer would be assigned to because traffic issues often occur during the late afternoon and at night.
“I would like that position to have some flexibility,” said Breen.
Nelson also asked Breen how the traffic enforcement officer would be used across town.
Breen said the traffic enforcement officer would be used to “address issues throughout town.” While traffic has been a major issue in the Walnut Street and Salem Street area, Breen said traffic has also been problematic along Chestnut Street, Essex Street, Lowell Street and Main Street.
“We will move that officer around wherever there are issues,” said Breen. “Just because we have a traffic enforcement officer does not mean that our patrol officers will not be enforcing traffic. They will. The goal is to reduce traffic accidents.”
Selectman Phil Crawford said he met with Breen, Town Administrator Bill Gustus and a group of residents to discuss traffic issues related to MarketStreet recently. With MarketStreet set to open its second phase next year, Crawford said the time has come to hire a traffic enforcement officer.
“If phase 2 at MarketStreet creates additional traffic issues in the Walnut Street and Salem Street area, a (traffic enforcement officer) should remedy (the situation),” said Crawford.
Selectman Tom Terranova agreed with Crawford’s sentiment.
“I think this is something that has been a long time coming,” said Terranova. “I think a lot of problem solving could occur with this dedicated traffic officer.”
While Breen said hiring a traffic enforcement officer will “mitigate” the traffic issues associated with MarketStreet, he said a traffic enforcement officer “will not solve the problem.”
“It won’t solve the problem on any street,” Breen added. “However, the more officers we have out there will reduce speeding, keep the trucks off excluded ways and stop turnaround traffic.”