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'It's a travesty': Training requirements could shut down auxiliary police units in Massachusetts

The police headquarters in Westfield, Massachusetts.
City of Westfield
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The police headquarters in Westfield, Massachusetts.

A group representing volunteer law enforcement officers in Massachusetts says new training standards could "cripple" auxiliary police programs across the state.

Auxiliary officers are often volunteers who provide support at public events such as parades among other duties. Under changes brought about by the 2020 police reform bill, they will have to undergo 220 more hours of training.

Reserve officers who have the power to make arrests have more training to undergo, as well as 2,400 hours of patrol time over five years.

The Massachusetts Volunteer Law Enforcement Association represents auxiliary officers across the state. Its president, Marc Spigel, said the organization isn't against the training itself. But they are concerned because many classes are scheduled when volunteers are at their day jobs.

"They claim that they have evening and night classes, but their classes start at 3 p.m. when most people who either volunteer or work part-time are working their full-time jobs," Spigel said.

As of Monday, he said, 21 departments across the state will be losing their volunteer officers.

"At a time period when Massachusetts can't attract and hire people [to police jobs], they're taking people who are willing to help out in their communities and they're making it so they can't continue" Spigel said. "It's a travesty, it really is."

In Westfield, the police department's auxiliary appears to be one of those folding. That means regular officers would have to pick up the slack often at overtime wages.

During a hearing last week on the police department's budget, City Councilor Dan Allie called this "an unfunded mandate."

"We just have to come up with a pile of more money to get the same thing done with less people, which is almost impossible," Allie said. "And these were guys that had done it for years, loved what they were doing and were a big help."

Westfield Police Chief Larry Valliere told councilors there is some concern among state lawmakers and hoped there might be some sort of a compromise.

Spigel did not share that optimism.

"I have tried speaking to legislators — my members have lobbied the legislators this past fall, to no avail. Legislators seem to have no interest in this issue," Spigel said. "There could be a legislative fix ... but I don't see that happening."

The state's Municipal Police Training Committee is charged with implementing the changes and training programs. In a statement, its executive director, Robert Ferullo, did not directly address concerns about auxiliary departments going way.

“The Municipal Police Training Committee is working diligently to advance the mandates established by the police reform law, including its primary objective of uniform training standards for all members of law enforcement," Ferullo said.