Police Chief Richard Tarsa answered questions from the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday.
ADAMS, Mass. — Adams is working to beef up its police force, but getting officers into uniform isn't easy.
Police Chief Richard Tarsa said the force is currently undermanned from a combination of retirements, extensive training for new recruits and civil service criteria
Those that pass the civil service exam can be sponsored by the town through 312 hours of academy training, then hours more of training in dispatch, firearms and other fields.
"You're looking at all this training just to get a uniform in the door," Tarsa told the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday. "You're looking at more than 800 hours of training."
The police chief might be new (he started as interim last April) but he's been on the force for three decades and is still wearing multiple hats.
Adams is currently sponsoring four "good quality" recruits through the reserve academy but only has two reserves on the streets. It's not that there aren't people interested, it's that civil service limits the reserves to town residents.
Tarsa noted the town's population has dropped by nearly 2,000 since his time as a reserve officer, a time when Adams had more than a few backups in the bullpen as eventual replacements.
Civil service limitations are an issue affecting small towns throughout the state, he said later, noting Northampton's withdrawal from the system 10 years ago. Palmer, Greenfield and Chicopee are also mulling a withdrawal because of residency requirements, lower qualifications (only a high school diploma is required to take the test) and the lengthy period it takes to hire anyone.
Tarsa said any decisions regarding civil service will be up to town officials, but he's trying to prepare now for more retirements down the road.
On the good side, the department is thrilled with its new K-9, Kumar, who is going through training with his partner Officer Curtis Crane.
"The benefits we've seen already I can't even begin to describe," Tarsa told club members. "It brings us up to the modern times of law enforcement and increases the abilities we have to a new level."
Kumar, now 18 months old, had been selected for the Lee Police Department but when the K-9 officer there was promoted, he was brought to Adams. The dog is the result of a grant from the Stanton Foundation, which funds K-9 units with the goal of having one in every department.
The three-year grant pays for everything related to the dog but Adams has already saved money by getting Kumar from Lee (saving $6,500) and getting another grant for a bulletproof vest for him from Vested Interest. Tarsa said that will allow the remaining balance to be stretched further and donations have already been coming in to help offset costs.
Kumar will be trained for tracking and drugs, and is already considered a goodwill ambassador for the department. This summer, Kumar and Crane will demonstrate some of their skills at public events.
"The bond that they have right now is unbelievable," Tarsa said. When they went to get Kumar, he made a beeline to Crane and jumped up and started licking his face. "He went right to his new master."
In response to questions from club members, Tarsa talked about the coordination between the schools and police force to prepare for crises, and changing demographics of the town that he thinks are being handled well.
The town has a drug problem but it's not as bad as many seem to think, he said. A lot of effort was made in the recent past to crack down on drug dealers.
Still, he said, "we're not immune from everything else in society."
Heroin continues to be a problem not only for the town but for the region, the police chief said, and he believed the decriminalization of marijuana will cause problems as a gateway drug.
"I'm sure there are politicians out there that are looking at it," he said. "It's a big moneymaker (referring to how much Colorado has pulled in in taxes) ... but really truly it's a headache for law enforcement."
Tarsa said voters likely didn't realize how much an ounce of pot was when a ballot initiative decriminalized that amount for "personal use." He estimated an ounce can make about 100 joints.
"That's a hell of a high," he said.
The police chief also cautioned that developing criminal cases can take time — one recent case took nearly six years to bring to fruition.
"On 'CSI,' everything happens in an hour," Tarsa said. "I can tell you in real life, it doesn't work that way."
The Maple Grove Civic Club meets once month through the winter at the PNA to hear from civic and community leaders on topics of interest. Next month's meeting on April 13 will be an open forum for candidates running for town election. New members are welcome.