Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn hopes to make the town welcoming to most people, including immigrants, but he wants officers to put more emphasis on enforcing traffic infractions as part of an effort to cut down on the amount of drugs in the area.
Lawn spoke about the Police Department’s priorities during the budget hearing in front of the Town Council on Saturday.
Since he became Police Chief two years ago Lawn has put an emphasis on community policing.
“I want officers to get out of their car and get into stores and on the street and speak with people,” Lawn said.
The Police Department has a number of programs where residents can meet police in and participate in fun activities, such as the Cops & Rec sports activities for youngsters, the twice-monthly Coffee with the Chief at the Senior Center, and the Citizens Police Academy (which will be back this fall). Lawn wants to start offering a similar academy for youth, a program that the WPD used to offer and which Lawn himself attended.
New this year is a pamphlet from the Police Department aimed at making immigrants feel comfortable and safe in Watertown. Lawn worked with members of Watertown Welcomes Immigrants Coalition, a volunteer civic organization, to create a policy to assure people of all immigration statuses feel comfortable reaching out to Police.
“It was the first policy we had community input to make,” Lawn said. “We put a condensed version of the policy on the pamphlet.”
The pamphlet has versions of the policy in Spanish, Portuguese, Farsi, Haitian Creole and Arabic. The pamphlet reads, in part: Don’t be afraid! … The Watertown Police Department is here to serve and protect you, and all members of our community, no matter where you come from or your immigration status. If you, or someone you know, feels unsafe or needs help, never be afraid to ask for help from the Watertown Police!”
During the budget hearing, Lawn also spoke about the problems of drugs in town. In 2017, Watertown had 64 reported drug overdoses and 10 deaths. This year, there have been 21 overdoses, so far, but no deaths.
Lawn is looking for ways to combat the influx of drugs, including more resources committed to drug investigations, as well as doing some simple things.
“I also want (officers) to get out there and stop cars if they see an infraction,” Lawn said.
As a result, Lawn hopes Watertown gets a reputation as a place to avoid if you are doing something illegal, such as carrying drugs.
“It’s not about traffic. Years ago people knew, don’t drive through Watertown because they will stop you,” Lawn said. “We have a lot of drugs coming through Watertown. If we make a few stops, people will stop coming through town.”
As an added bonus, speeding and other infractions may go down. Traffic is one of the biggest areas of complaint from residents, Lawn said.
In the past, when the Police Department had a bigger roster, Lawn said, Watertown had a pair of traffic enforcement officers during the day and another two in the evening. While Lawn will not be adding officers specifically assigned to traffic, he said he has asked patrol officers to pull people over if they see them do something wrong.
Councilors asked how police officers would target people carrying drugs. Lawn said that they would not know when the first pull over a vehicle, but they are trained to look for signs.
“They might smell something or see something,” Lawn said.
As another effort in cutting down the drugs in town Lawn will increase the WPD presence on the Suburban Middlesex Drug Task Force.
“Now the detective is in that task force two days a week,” Lawn said “The goal, with the amount of drugs out there, is to get the person out there full time.”