PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Taxpayers in Pawtucket picked up the tab for more than 400 police details at McCoy Stadium in 2018 even as the PawSox owners were negotiating a deal with Worcester officials to move the team there, a Target 12 review of public records shows.
Like any business that requires a police detail for security at large events, the team hires officers to be on hand during games. Four or five officers would be assigned to a game on weeknights; more would be tapped on weekends.
Records show 360 officers were assigned to police details at McCoy during the 2016 season, and the team paid the city $68,724 that year. In 2017, when there were 388 details, the team cut a check for $85,832.
The number of details spiked to 440 officers during the 2018 season, at a cost of $113,465 — but the team never reimbursed the city a penny.
In an interview with Target 12, Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien acknowledged he struck a handshake agreement with the team to look the other way on the bill while he was negotiating with PawSox officials to stay in his city.
“I’m taking full responsibility as the mayor who’s trying to salvage keeping them here and getting that economic development,” Grebien said. “We were trying to keep the PawSox at the table for negotiations as we were trying to keep them here for the development of the city of Pawtucket.”
As it turns out, the team was also in talks with city leaders in Worcester at the time and announced last year the ballclub will move to Massachusetts. Despite that decision, Grebien said he has no plans to ask the team to reimburse taxpayers for the expense.
“This is an understanding that we had,” Grebien said. “Whether we blame the state, whether we blame the city, there’s a lot of blame to go around, but that was an understanding that we had for the one year to keep everybody calm and at the table.”
No one from the PawSox was willing to be interviewed. A spokesperson, who declined to be identified by name, said in an email the team has “a good, constructive relationship with the city of Pawtucket.”
“In fact, we are sharing profits, if there are any, with the city this year,” the spokesperson said. “Every year is different, but we look forward to continuing this productive relationship and working with Mayor Grebien and the City Council.”
State Republican Party Chairwoman Suzanne Cienki said the agreement between the team and the city was another example of a special interest group benefitting at taxpayer expense.
“Taxpayers should come first and in this instance there are not,” Cienki said. “They are very wealthy owners, the PawSox, so they should be paying for those details.”
Cienki called on the team to reimburse the city “before they walk out the door.”
Henry Kinch, a former City Council President and frequent Grebien critic, said the city can’t afford to look the other way on police details at McCoy.
“It was obvious from the beginning that the relationship between the owners and City Hall was a bit too cozy,” Kinch said. “The taxpayers were never the number one priority.”
Grebien said he did not seek the City Council’s approval before making the deal with the team, and while the detail money came from the police department’s budget, the extra cost will have no impact on public safety.
He added that the team would likely not have been required to pay the entire tab if the deal hadn’t been made, because the city has traditionally picked up the cost of roughly 40 to 50 details annually. The city has previously sent extra officers to McCoy for special events, like fireworks night as part of the city’s 4th of July celebration.
“There’s that value that city gets back for having that activity,” Grebien said. “Everybody in the neighborhoods come out so we have to put additional public safety on there, so we’ve always eaten that cost.”
Grebien said the deal giving the team a pass on the detail costs is not extending into the 2019 season.