The police officer assigned to code enforcement issues for the past several years -- lending a hand to the fight against blight -- is returning to patrol duties for at least the summer.
Police Chief John DiVenere said he’s putting Officer Tom Lavigne back on the road to help cope with a shortage of officers during the department’s busiest season.
“I need bodies on the road,” the chief said Monday.
City councilors created the code enforcement officer position a few years ago with the provision that it focus on issues related to blight, housing and other items connected to a crackdown on code violations.
City Councilor Kevin McCauley said he is concerned about the chief’s plan to shift Lavigne away from code enforcement given the strong success of the effort in recent years.
Building Official Guy Morin has credited Lavigne’s presence for contributing to the willingness of violators to comply with municipal orders to clean up, fix up and otherwise obey the law.
Mayor Art Ward said that he understands DiVenere’s aim “to limit some of the overtime” by putting Lavigne, a former city councilor, back on patrol duties.
He said that during the summer there isn’t as much need for a full-time code enforcement officer and that the program’s success has also made the officer less crucial to the effort.
“We’re trying to look at the whole situation” in terms of public safety, saving money and enforcing the law, the mayor said.
He said that perhaps Morin will be able to schedule specific times where Lavigne can help with code enforcement instead of having him available more often.
DiVenere said that might be possible, but cautioned that every police officer is charged with enforcing the city’s laws and can serve in the same capacity as Lavigne.
DiVenere said his department is down “eight or nine officers” heading into the busy summer months.
Three slots are vacant, while three officers are out on long-term medical leave and two more are on military leave, the chief said.
Combined with the need to let officers take vacation during the summer, DiVenere said, he needs more people on patrol so that he doesn’t push up overtime costs or turn down reasonable vacation requests.
He said that putting Lavigne on patrol will save thousands of dollars for taxpayers.
Moreover, DiVenere said, the extra flexibility may make it possible for him to avoid layoffs as the city looks for ways to cut back on spending during the fiscal crisis that has sapped extra money from every municipal department.
The chief said police are facing “an emergency” situation with the budget and putting Lavigne on patrol for the summer shift that runs from June to August is one way to handle it.
He said that after the summertime shift is over, Lavigne or a different police officer will again be assigned to code enforcement duties.
“We will have a code enforcement officer again,” DiVenere said.
For more background, see this March 2008 memorandum from city Councilor Craig Minor.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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