WARWICK, RI — The Warwick City Council resumes budget hearings tonight at 5 p.m. at Warwick City Hall in Council Chambers, where they’ll continue reviewing the Warwick Police Department’s $20,408,960 budget.
The department’s police grants, board of public safety, alcohol and safety and organized crime budgets still need review. After that, the Council will turn to the remaining departments, Fire, DPW, and Parks & Recreation.
WPD Chief Col. Stephen McCartney said the budget included funding for two new dispatchers, bringing the dispatcher crew up to 16.
McCartney said the department currently has 170 officers and there are nine recruits expected to start during the next police academy class starting in July. The department has been understaffed on dispatchers most of the year, McCartney said and are looking for two more with the current count at 14.
During Tuesday’s hearings, Councilman Richard Corley asked McCartney if he would need to shift personnel to enforce the Red Flag law, “Which seems almost certain to become law,” the councilman said.
Corley referred to the ‘red flag’ legislation (S-2492) that would allow courts to restrict gun ownership from people found to be a “significant danger” to others. [ See RI Senate ‘red flag’ bill vote].
“Obviously, there’ll be some growing pains there,” McCartney said. He said that after July 1, the department will take a close look at the statute if it passes, and establishing new procedures for the department’s operations manual.
“We’re just going to see how it works out,” McCartney said.
Corley noted the law would likely put the onus of warehousing confiscated weapons on the police department.
“We are dealing with that to a degree anyway now with the restraining orders,” McCartney said, which require people to surrender their weapons. The real challenge the department faces, he said is an increasing number of calls for service that are mental health related.
In some cases, he said, police are repeatedly visiting a home for a call involving someone dealing with mental health challenges, and though the department tries to send the same officers to those spots to ensure those calls are handled by people experienced with the situation, “But that’s the kind of thing that may manifest itself into a more dangerous situation, and we may have to use the red flag statute,” McCartney said.
McCartney noted the department has a mental health liaison worker, Maureen Gouveia, from the Providence Center, who aids them in mental health related calls and situations every day. She works on a people’s history when police make a mental-health related call and coordinates with the hospital to ensure they receive the proper care after police have made contact.
Major Brad Connor told the council the department is on pace to use 5,000-6,000 fewer gallons of gas than in previous years due to improvements in fuel efficiency on newer cars.