It’s been a tough two months for city Police Chief Michael Mageary who has seen his officers and detectives respond to four homicides, including two deadly daylight shootings. To be sure, the four incidents were unrelated and some arrests have been made, with the suspect in the Central Square shooting on Easter still at large.
With recent violence in mind, City Councilors invited Mageary and Fire Chief James McDonald to council committee meetings on Tuesday to discuss “recent public safety issues.” It is not surprising the exchange between the elected officials and the public safety leaders focused on spending.
Mageary said the Police Department has 181 officers today compared to 193 in 2010. McDonald, a career public safety officer like Mageary, said Lynn’s eight aging fire stations need to be replaced.
In a perfect world, public safety gets top priority and somehow tax dollars pay to put a police officer on every corner and a firehouse in every neighborhood. That is not reality and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy made it clear she is struggling to make sure the city complies with burdensome state school spending formulas even as she tries to spend more money on police and fire departments.
There was a time 25 years ago when the federal government opened the spending spigot and sent a flood of money into Lynn and other cities. The money paid for police officers and firefighters and innovative policing programs that put cops on bicycles and on foot in neighborhoods.
In the last 15 years, public safety departments in communities across the state have turned to grant money to hire new officers and firefighters. The problem with grants is that communities eventually have to incorporate the hires into their salary budgets once the grant money runs out.
Putting a cop on every corner could not have guaranteed a murder-free March and April in Lynn. But a heightened sense of police protection helps residents feel they are safe and gives them more opportunities to work with police to point out potential problems, including properties where drug dealing might be taking place, or playgrounds where gangs may be trying to stake out turf.
Mageary knows all about police work and he has seen budget shortfalls come and go during his career. He knows that some of the most effective police work often takes place behind the scenes and out of public view. Coordinated efforts to crack down on drug dealers and gangs can take months to plan with multiple law enforcement agencies involved.
Efforts to pull guns off streets and reduce violence also involve agencies working in many different communities and, sometimes, across state lines to get results.
It is often said that spending less means working smarter. Kennedy, Mageary, McDonald and the council should meet often during the next several months and develop a city budget for the spending year that starts on July 1 filled with strategies for addressing Lynn’s public safety priorities.