Lawrence To Reinstate Officers

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, in a reversal of previous policy, has negotiated an agreement with the Lawrence Police Department superior officers union and Chief John Romero to return several of the department’s special operations units to city streets, according to City Hall sources.

In an effort to balance the city budget, Lantigua had cut the number of cops in the Lawrence Police Department from 151 to 111, and also demoted several officers to the rank of patrolman or down to sergeant from higher ranks. The moves, which occurred in 2010, left the city’s six special investigations units — street narcotics; gangs; burglary; auto theft and insurance fraud; domestic violence; and community policing — without supervisors (and/or without other experienced officers to staff the positions, due to the layoffs). As I detailed in “City of the Damned,” my story in the March issue of the magazine, it was a disaster for the city. Reports of felony crimes skyrocketed from 1,777 in 2009, the last year the special operations units were in place, to 2,790 in 2011, an increase of 57 percent.

Under the new agreement, the city will restore 11 superior officers (or an officer above the rank of patrolman) to their previous rank, including two captains, four lieutenants, and five sergeants. According to sources, the return of these positions will allow the police department to reconstitute the street narcotics, gang, auto theft and insurance fraud, and community policing units, as well as its uniformed traffic enforcement unit. As part of the agreement the superior officers union has consented to rework schedules to allow for the occasional covering of shifts in a way that doesn’t result in overtime pay. According to my sources, Lantigua’s decision comes at least in part in response to the firestorm that erupted after the publication of my story for the magazine, which detailed Lawrence’s many problems. The negotiations marked the first time in several months that the mayor had sat down to discuss manpower decisions with police leadership, according to my source in City Hall.

As part of my reporting that story, I rode along with drug enforcement officers working on an undercover investigation in Lawrence. They told me that, if only they had the manpower, they could hit drug houses all day long in Lawrence. Hopefully, the reinforcements from the new agreement will help.