‘We need to find a creative solution’: Police say station inadequate after 47 years
Wareham Police are responding to more calls with fewer officers from a woefully inadequate headquarters, according to a recent report from Acting Police Chief John Walcek.
Additional manpower and the need for a new station were both highlighted in Walcek’s recent annual report to the town. Walcek was appointed acting chief on May 1 after former Police Chief Kevin Walsh abruptly retired.
In the months since, Walcek has stepped up the department’s media presence, cracked down on underage alcohol sales, added motorcycles to the fleet and added a college intern to handle some aspects of domestic violence incidents.
However, he noted there are challenges facing the department. Chief among them is the need for a new station to replace the current one, which was built in 1971.
“The public doesn’t realize the building is really worn out,” said Walcek. “It’s done its service. A few years ago we had an electrician come in here, and he told us we couldn’t put one more lightbulb in the building.”
After some upgrades courtesy of Wareham Municipal Maintenance, the department added more electrical capacity for computers.
Walcek said other concerns can’t be addressed as easily.
Prisoners are currently being processed in a hallway adjacent to the dispatch center and next to lieutenant offices. The dispatch center handles all 911 calls and serves as a hub of communication for officers in the field. According to a 2002 study conducted by MMA Consulting on the department, the booking area may pose a hazard.
“The booking of prisoners is accomplished in a hallway,” according to the report. “This is dangerous to both prisoners and officers.”
A new station will be a hard sell to voters, Walcek acknowledged. On Nov. 6, Wareham voters approved raising property taxes to build a new $90 million elementary school.
“We’re aware a lot of folks in town are on fixed incomes and this is a difficult issue to put out there,” he said. “But I would be remiss in not mentioning it in the annual report.”
The need for a new building was highlighted in the 2002 report. Walcek said a committee was formed and some options were explored soon after, but nothing was decided. He said it’s time again to start exploring new ways to get a building, possibly partnering with the Wareham Fire Department for a joint public safety complex.
“While we are a very busy agency for our size, our manpower unfortunately does not allow for a great deal of proactive work, rather we react to situations as they happen,” Walcek said. “Clearly, the Wareham Police Department needs to grow, both with manpower and our headquarters...We need to find a creative solution.”
Addressing a shortage of manpower is also being examined.
Since 2000, the town’s population has increased 10 percent from 20,355 to 22,472 people according to U.S. Census Data. Since 2001, the department’s call volume has more than doubled. Sixteen years ago, officers responded to 27,768 calls while last year that figure was 59,808.
While the number of calls has increased dramatically, the number of officers has dropped slightly. In 2001, there were 45 sworn officers on the department, including the chief and lieutenants. Last year, there were 42 sworn officers in the ranks.
According to the 2002 study: “There is insufficient patrol staffing to meet the level of police activity…The Police Department has a relatively heavy workload and patrol sectors are geographically large, resulting in some long response times.”
Walcek said he’s hopeful police and town officials, as well as residents, can start exploring economical solutions soon.
With two villages, miles of coastline, diverse demographics and a large summer population, Walcek said the town provides policing challenges.
“Compared to other towns our size Wareham is a unique place to police,” said Walcek. “We have people who live in million dollar homes on the water and others who are living in motels week to week.”
He credited officers for their dedication.
“Our officers are multi-talented and do so much more than the public sees,” said Walcek.