Consider carefully before voting
Recently, residents of East Longmeadow have become aware of a proposal by the East Longmeadow Board of Selectman to be voted at the upcoming annual Town Meeting, which would replace the Chief of Police and the Fire Chief with a Public Safety Director. I am urging all residents to consider this article carefully before voting, and be mindful of the impact their decisions could have on public safety.
East Longmeadow is not the first community in Massachusetts to consider a Public Safety Director and consolidate two positions into one. Most recently Middleboro went through the same exercise. What they discovered, and what many communities have discovered, is although it sounds like a logical cost savings, in reality it doesn't save any money. In fact, it generally costs more money and has many detrimental effects on the operations of both the police and fire departments.
Please allow me to outline some obstacles and typical problems associated with the implementation of a Public Safety Director. First, it is nearly impossible to find a candidate who is an accomplished expert in both law enforcement and fire protection. There is good reason why these two professions have historically been separate.
Because the ideal candidate doesn't really exist, once a public safety director is hired one of the two departments (police or fire) suffer from his or her lack of expertise in that profession, or simply because the director favors one profession over the other. Secondly, what is soon discovered by communities is that one director can't be in two places at once and each respective department eventually needs another level of non-union management to handle the day to day operations and decisions of the department. The cost of adding this extra level of management generally is more than the savings of the Public Safety Director in the first place, and eventually results in the Director's position becoming nothing more than a highly paid finance director for the two departments. Additionally, the appointment of a Public Safety Director instead of individual chiefs for each department sends a message to each firefighter and police officer seeking career advancement to look elsewhere. This creates constant turnover in each department. Turnover costs money in training, equipment, overtime and lost productivity. Highly motivated and skilled law enforcement officers and firefighters seek career opportunities elsewhere leaving behind a workforce of mediocre employees.
It is true that Public Safety Directors exist in some regions of the country, and for the most part they are successful. However, if you examine the jobs of these public safety directors, they have little to do with the overall management of each individual fire or police department. That job is done by middle management. Instead, the Public Safety Director makes policy, seeks funding, and manages the finances of the public safety departments. They don't respond to your home at 2:00 in the morning when you have a problem.
We are fortunate in East Longmeadow to have Chief Douglas Mellis as our chief law enforcement official. He has a long and respected career in law enforcement, is active in many professional law enforcement organizations and is well educated in his field. However, none of his education or experience qualifies him to operate, set policy or develop operational guidelines for a firefighting force or advise the public on matters of fire protection. To make someone with no experience or education in fire protection in charge of our Fire Department is just bad management.
As a member of the Town's Appropriations Committee, I applaud the Selectmen's willingness to find creative ways of saving the town money. However, in this case, I believe this article would have a significant detrimental impact on the safety of the public, and the police officers and firefighters who serve our community. I am against the appointment of a public safety director, and I urge the residents of East Longmeadow to come vote on this issue at the annual town meeting on May 16.