Saco Police Chief Jack Clements said the City Council has been very supportive of his quest to increase the number of police positions and on Nov. 4 agreed to fund two new positions this fiscal year. Courtesy photo

SACO — One of the most frequent complaints Police Chief Jack Clements said he hears from residents is the speed at which some motorists drive within the city limits, along with other traffic-related issues.

With 35 officers funded in the budget, and thousands of calls for service annually, officers  haven’t always been able to devote a block of time to traffic enforcement.

“They get out to the area where there’s a speeding complaint and they can be there 10 minutes and have to leave,” to answer a call for service, said Clements.

On Nov. 4, the Saco City Council authorized two new police officer positions and once they’re filled, the department is expected to be able to devote more resources to those issues.

The year 2000 was the last time the police department added new positions, but Saco has grown by about 16 percent since that time, according to information provided by the city government. The additional two officers will afford the department the opportunity to adequately respond to community concerns, traffic complaints and improve employee retention, according to the City Council packet information on the matter.

In 2018, Saco’s emergency services answered 30,000 calls for service — a figure which includes all police, fire and emergency medical calls. While not all fire and EMS calls require a response from the police department, some, like cardiac emergencies, overdose reports and vehicle crashes do, Clements said.

There are a number of staffing models, each offering a different perspective on how many officers a community should employ, he said. Some models say a city should have 2.2 officers for every 1,000 residents.  Others say crime data should play more of a role in determining the number of officers on the streets, he said.

What Clements will tell you is that with 35 officers, there are issues – like traffic complaints – that haven’t been able to be met.

The City Council was very supportive of the plan to add two positions, he said.

Marston Lovell, the city’s mayor until Dec. 2, when William Doyle is inaugurated, said the police department’s request for four new positions had gotten cut during the spring budget process. Clements was deputy chief at the time, while the police chief, Raynald Demers, who has since retired, was on leave during an investigation that later culminated in no findings of misconduct.

“The police department was in a state of flux at the time,” said Lovell. But time has passed, and Lovell said he believes the City Council on Nov. 4 felt more comfortable with the prospect of adding police positions.

Not long ago, Clements made a change in management staffing, Lovell said. Rather than employing two deputy chiefs, the system was changed to one deputy chief and two lieutenants.

According to the budget amendment document, $154,000, to be funded from surplus revenue, will be used to pay for the two new positions. The amendment shows that by making use of existing equipment like firearms, radios and vehicles, the police department was able to save taxpayers $51,960. Finance Director Glenys Salas noted that although the positions will be paid out of the fund balance this fiscal year, they would be added to the police department budget in 2021 and funded from the tax commitment.

The two new positions won’t be solely devoted to traffic enforcement, but will give the department some additional staffing on day and swing shifts, said Clements, which in turn will allow more enforcement than what is currently the case.

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