Police Union Opposes Proposed Safety Complex

March 6, 2015

by Jay Hobson

According to Salem Police Relief Association/NEPBA Local 22 President Sergeant Steve Woidyla, the union does not support the proposed safety complex approved for inclusion on the ballot at the last deliberative session.

The union represents sergeants, patrolmen, detectives and dispatchers of the Salem Police Department.

Salem residents will be asked on March 10 if they approve a $23 million Safety Complex proposed for the current site of the police station.

The building will house a new police station, fire station and conference room.

Woidyla cited the current condition of the police station as being the result of “years of non-existent maintenance and repair due to a lack of proper funding.”

Over the past several years, Woidyla said, officers have done most of the maintenance and repairs to the building, and the Salem Police Relief and Benevolent Association has donated the expenses for materials and equipment when the town would not help.

He said that there are more important issues the union feels should be addressed before spending $23 million on a building.

“We have been cut and underfunded to the point that sometimes there are only five officers on a shift, and for a town the size of Salem, to undercut us to the point that we lost the Community Services Unit and the Records Department staff cuts, to build a $23 million safety complex is not something we can support,” Woidyla said.

A press release, signed “by the men and women of the Salem Police Relief Association” and received from Sgt. Woidyla, said that according to the safety complex proposal, the amount of criminal incidents has increased 32 percent since 2011.

“What people are not being told is that during this same time frame, the town has cut personnel, training and services due to lack of funding,” said Woidyla.  “The citizens of Salem have lost the entire Community Services Unit, a prosecutor, three records clerks and the safety officer.  The Patrol Division has operated at minimum staffing for an extended period of time during 2014 and will again this year.  At times there will be only five patrolmen on the streets, the same amount of officers as 25 years ago.  Also, a person cannot come to the police station and leave with a copy of a police report because the Records Department is no longer open to the public.”

Woidyla also said that school resource officers were paid by the school district because of funding cuts.

According to Woidyla, the department no longer has a safety officer who would handle all citizen concerns regarding traffic safety and provide guidance in crime prevention and safety measures.  Recently, several important officer training sessions had to be cancelled or postponed for lack of funding.

“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of properly trained officers on the streets,” he said.  “During the past year, there were dozens of horrific events that took place across the country and in many cases, officers’ training came into question.”

Woidyla said that the union strongly believes that it is short-sighted for the selectmen to approve a $23 million safety complex while they continue to cut and/or underfund existing personnel, training and services.

“The citizens of Salem are smart enough to realize that a new building will not preserve the safety and quality of life that the residents deserve, but rather a sufficient number of well-trained officers will,” Woidyla said.

Of the five selectmen, Stephen Campbell, Everett McBride, Chairman Pat Hargreaves, James Keller and Mike Lyons, only Campbell has voiced opposition to the project citing cost and timing.

The fire department union, according to spokesman and union President Lt. Chris Hamilton, took a vote and voted to “remain neutral” on the matter.