As part of my ongoing effort to see the Faces of Economic Recovery across the state, I recently paid a visit to the Lowell Police and Fire Departments. I knew that both departments received Stimulus awards and I wanted to see firsthand the kind of impact the awards had both on their departments and the great city of Lowell.
Driving through Lowell’s downtown, I could see both the city’s vibrancy and diversity in its stores and in its people. Police Chief Kenneth Lavallee told me that the Lowell Police Department played a part in the city’s revival in the 1990s, through proactive programs like a community policing initiative.
But both Chief Lavallee and Lowell Fire Chief Ed Pitta told me that the current recession meant deeper cuts in both their departments. Chief Pitta said his department was down 9 men going in to July. Chief Lavallee said that he was facing having to lay off another 26 officers this month, and this was on top of attrition the department had already suffered.
“If we had lost those 26 officers, we would have been absolutely devastated,” Chief Lavallee told me. “The community policing program that we have in place, everything we do to be proactive, to prevent crime to keep the city safe would have been impacted. We would have been a 911-driven police department, emergency only. Without these positions quite honestly we would have been in deep trouble.”
“It’s significant because on a daily basis we close certain fire companies so I’m hoping to be able to keep at least one extra company open on every shift by spreading these people out,” said Chief Pitta. “That’s significant because when a station is closed some part of the city is without their fire protection.”
Chief Lavallee was able to retain all 26 police officers on his force. He said that means he won’t have to shut down many of the commitments his department has to the city such as substations, youth programs and proactive services.
Chief Lavallee was determined that we meet Tim Roussell, a 26-year old police officer who was slated to be laid off. He actually grew up in Lowell. We found Roussell on a police detail but he gave us a few minutes and I was glad he did because his story is what stimulus is all about. Roussell is a Navy veteran who spent time serving in Somalia and the Perisan Gulf. He told me he
Photo by Ariel Kessler.
wanted to be a police officer his entire life. When he heard his name was on the layoff list, he shelved his plan to buy a house and take advantage of the $8K first time home buyer’s tax credit.
“I am so relieved I was retained,” Roussell told me. He also told me he plans to buy that house now.
Does it get better than that?
Keep checking back here often. I’m still traveling around the state and bringing you back stories of how stimulus funds are being used.
Do have a stimulus story you want to share? Let me know in the comments.