NORTH SMITHFIELD – Resident Maureen Allam pointed out this week that while the rest of the world practices social distancing amid a pandemic, police officers come face-to-face with the virus regularly.
“They can’t always stop and put gloves on, and masks. They can’t always keep six feet away,” Allam said. “They’ve been spit on.”
Allam was one of many supporters to speak in favor of a contract with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 410 that will see broad changes to wages, with increases of up to 15 percent for the department’s highest-ranking officers.
“I don’t think you can put a price tag, really, on safety,” Allam said. “Those officers are there 365-days-a-year in this pandemic. They don’t know what the days will bring, or even if they can go home.”
The contract was approved by unanimous vote at a virtual Town Council meeting on Monday, May 18.
The agreement, which aims to retain officers through the increased salaries, will result in an additional $294,000 allocated to the force in the upcoming budget cycle.
“I believe this is a fair contract,” said Town Council President Paul Vadenais. “It’s not great. It’s not bad. It’s a fair contract.”
Vadenais noted that important language changes were also put in as part of the new deal with the union.
“We’re protecting the town,” Vadenais said. “We’re protecting our men and women on the force. “
The contract includes raises of 2.5 percent this year for patrol officers, and the increase slides upward according to rank, amounting to a 6.9 percent raise for senior patrol officers in year one; 6 percent for detectives; 7 percent for sergeants; 10 percent for lieutenants and 15 percent for captains.
The agreement is retroactive through the date the police union’s last contract expired: July 1, 2019.
Concessions for the town include increases to co-pays for health insurance, small changes to vacation time, and a change to OPEB that Town Administrator Gary Ezovski said will result in a 30 percent decrease in the town’s contribution over time.
Resident Cheryl Dechristofaro pointed to the importance of retaining officers, both for safety and financial reasons.
“We’re wasting taxpayers’ dollars to constantly train police officers that then turn around and go to work for other towns with a better pay option,” Dechristofaro said. “We need to do all we can to retain them here.”
Dechristofaro noted that residents also get to build relationships with officers who stay in North Smithfield.
“It’s hard to build a bridge if officers are leaving all the time, because no one ever gets to know them,” said Dechristofaro. “I think the town’s safer when everyone works together.”
Councilor Paul Zwolenski noted that the town has been losing officers at a rate of 1.3 per year.
“I heard some pretty articulate, impassioned pleas from folks who took the time to attend the meeting this evening,” Zwolenski said, also pointing to the importance of retaining officers.
“They’re trained. They know the community,” Zwolenski said. “These other communities poach our talent away from us.”
“We’re not trying to set the benchmark for salaries here,” he added. “We’re just trying to bring our police officers up to parity.”