NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. (WPRI) — While Rhode Island State Police have typically sent troopers at no cost to support police on Block Island during busy summer weekends, town officials on Friday discussed the growing likelihood they’ll have to start paying up.
In a meeting of the New Shoreham Town Council, town lobbyist Rick McAuliffe told the council that state police have requested payment for the 15-week stint on the island, citing staffing issues.
“Their issue was that the police academies have had less and less people applying to be state police officers, and that they’re in a major problem with the workforce,” McAuliffe explained.
Maj. Laurie Ludovici, the administrative bureau commander for R.I. State Police, said former Superintendent James Manni wrote a letter to the town council in February discussing the agency’s challenges.
“Due to these staffing and budgetary concerns, the Rhode Island State Police does not have troopers to assign to assist the New Shoreham Police Department without creating overtime,” Manni wrote. “There is still a possibility troopers can be assigned this summer, but only as an overtime detail assignment.”
“Therefore, I am asking that the Town of New Shoreham reimburse the State for each trooper that is assigned this overtime detail,” Manni continued.
Ludovici told 12 News those details would run from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend at an estimated cost of around $50,000 to pay the overtime for one trooper.
She added that as part of the agreement, state police would provide a supervisor at no cost to New Shoreham anytime a trooper was assigned.
According to Ludovici, the expenditures for a supervisor and trooper to be on duty on Block Island last summer totaled $137,000.
McAuliffe said that after speaking with Manni earlier this year, he was told New Shoreham wouldn’t be alone in paying for state police support.
“The town of Exeter, which does not have a police department, they are going to have to pay,” McAuliffe remarked. “And the Bridge and Turnpike Authority, which has had state police presence [and] is not paying, they will have to pay as well.”
RIBTA spokesperson Cara Cromwell told 12 News the agency has signed a three-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with state police to provide dedicated patrols for the state’s bridges. The MOU goes into effect on July 1.
Cromwell said the MOU says that state police will establish a post to oversee the provision of law enforcement services to RITBA and “assign two troopers to RITBA for the purpose of providing law enforcement services, 24 hours/day, 365 days/year for the bridges, highways, and roadways under RITBA’s control.”
The average cost is $142,650 per year, according to Cromwell.
Exeter, the last town in the state without its own police department, will also soon be entering a three-year MOU with state police.
Town Council President Dan Patterson told 12 News the town will get coverage from two full-time troopers (one during the day and one at night) starting at $135,000 in the first year.
Patterson called entering the contract “a no-brainer” and said it would also begin on July 1.
“My concern, obviously, was this is upon the council. My other concern was the precedent in which it sends for future years,” McAuliffe told the council Friday.
McAuliffe also said that in meeting with Gov. Dan McKee, he mentioned it would be a “public relations disaster” if something were to happen on a state road and state police did not have a presence there.
“[McKee] understood it, but he felt that because [there were] not enough employees within the state police that he had no choice but to do this,” McAuliffe said. “Very supportive of the state police and what they were trying to do.”
McAuliffe said during that conversation, McKee assured him that he and town officials would work together to find a final solution for the future. 12 News reached out to the governor’s office, which offered no additional comment.
According to McAuliffe, the state police support would cost the town approximately $47,000, and if the town were to send a letter to the delegation requesting funding, the council would “need to do that quickly.”
“The budget negotiations will be happening over the course of May … and they will vote on the budget sometime in June,” McAuliffe said.
“We won’t know if we have the money until probably June 20 to July 1, and the money wouldn’t be allocated back to the community until sometime in August, which obviously is in the middle of summer,” he added.
Some New Shoreham Town Council members discussed hiring additional local police officers, but others said that while the island could use extra support, hiring more officers alone may not be the best idea.
“Two summers ago, I saw what happened when the state police came in. It was like the net had been thrown over the lions,” council member Martha Ball recalled.
“A state trooper pulls someone over, everybody stops,” she continued. “It’s extraordinary, the difference a couple of people in one or two vehicles can make.”
Throughout the rest of Friday’s meeting, councilors debated whether they should put the money needed for state police support in its budget or continue to push back against the idea.
“We have a financial town meeting on Monday and I think we should add that money to the budget,” First Warden André Boudreau told the council Friday. “That’s my opinion, because we’re going to get told no again, I think that’s going to be the ultimate answer.”
Second Warden Sven Risom said he was not in favor of putting that funding in the town’s budget.
“I think it’s wrong that the state police is considering this. I think it’s wrong that the governor is supporting this,” Risom said.
“These are state roads, we’re a major part of the state, we’re a major part of tourism, which is a huge state initiative,” he added.
No vote on the issue was taken Friday, but the town lobbyist said he’d be requesting a meeting between the governor and town council in the near future.