Watertown Police to be Removed from Civil Service, Use Body Cams & Vehicle Cams

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Some major changes will be coming to the Watertown Police Department in the near future, including taking patrol officers out of the Civil Service System, and officers will wear body cameras and have cameras on their vehicles.

City Manager George Proakis told the City Council about the changes during his Fiscal Year 2025 City Budget presentation on April 30. The move out of Civil Service is intended to help the Police Department recruit and hire more easily, he said, and studies of other departments have shown that body cams have led to fewer citizen complaints, higher rates of prosecution and other benefits.

Civil Service

The Civil Service rules apply to hiring, promotions, and the disciplinary appeal process. The first part has become more and more difficult for the Police Department, said Proakis, who added that he has not seen the same thing for the Watertown Fire Department, which is also in Civil Service.

“With our Fire Department, I call a list I get 20 names, seven of them are ties for the first slot, you interview the seven people for the three spots, you have the Chief and the Human Resources Director say, ‘OK, these people are the best fit for for what we need in the department right now. Let’s hire them.'” he said. “And send them to the Fire Academy and send them forward.”

Communities must follow the priority list for candidates when hiring through Civil Service, Proakis said, starting with someone related to a fallen police officer statewide, then Watertown residents who are veterans, residents, non-Watertown residents who are vets, and non-residents.

“For Police, I call a list, … we go through our residents list and there just aren’t enough people interested,” said Proakis, who added that he has found it difficult to recruit people from other communities.

The Police Department tried to find police officers to transfer in from another department.

“The next thing we do is we ask for lateral transfers from other departments, which is a great way to bring experienced people in and we got some interest, but the interest is from people who are in non-Civil Service departments. We can’t hire a non-Civil Service process from another department,” Proakis said. “So many other departments around us have left Civil Service. If we don’t do that we can’t tackle that.”

The Police Department currently has several openings. With the move out of Civil Service, Proakis hopes he will be able to fill the positions so current officers won’t have to work as many mandatory overtime shifts, or work double shifts.

The change was part of the new contract signed by the Watertown Police Association’s patrol officer’s unit. The supervisors and chief will remain in Civil Service, Proakis said.

Current officers will remain in the Civil Service System, he added. The procedures for new hires will be included in internal policies agreed upon by the union and the Police Chief, Proakis said.

Another strategy to help recruit officers is the addition of four cadets in the new Cadet Program. The cadets will get to see what it’s like to be a police officer, Proakis said, and allow the department to get to know the cadets.

Watertown has been in the Civil Service System since the early 1930s, when Town Meeting voted to place the Police into the system, Proakis said. So, the legislative body, now the City Council, will have to vote to remove Watertown Police from the system.

Body Cameras

Another addition in the new police contract is the addition of body cameras. Proakis said that they have many benefits.

“One study has shown a 60 percent reduction in use of force incidents and an 88 percent reduction in citizen complaints when body cameras are utilized,” Proakis said, quoting information sent to him by Watertown Police Chief Justin Hanrahan.

Proakis added: “Having video often improves the rates of prosecution, reduces civil liability cases, and assists with removal of personnel who engage in significant wrongdoing.” 

There will be rules about when the body cam footage can be accessed, which will be negotiated with the union, Proakis said.

“Most of the time the unions say you can’t pull body cam footage and sit around trying to find a mistake. When a complaint comes in, you pull body cam footage,” he said. “You don’t search it all day… It is intended to be helpful in those circumstances where there are differences of opinion of what occurred in traffic stops, in a call response, where this officer said this about me, or this person did this to an officer, or whatever it may be.”

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