Taveras Police Detail Costs Providence $500k

Friday, February 03, 2012

 

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The City of Providence shelled out $500,000 for a four-officer police detail for Mayor Angel Taveras last year, double what the state spends on security for the Governor, according to records obtained by GoLocalProv.

 

Taveras is the only mayor among medium-sized New England cities who has a security detail.

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The mayor of Worcester, Massachusetts—which, at a population of 181,045, is slightly larger than Providence—does not have a detail, but his position is part-time. However, the full-time mayors of Bridgeport, the largest city in Connecticut, and Hartford, the capital, don’t have regular protection details either. Neither do the ones in Springfield and New Haven, officials in those cities told GoLocalProv.

 

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra does not feel a detail is necessary, according to spokeswoman Andrea Comer. “He usually just goes where he needs to go on his own,” Comer said. “I think it’s just his decision. He feels very comfortable in the city.”

The same goes for Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno who drives himself and once even pulled over to direct traffic at an accident scene. “He’s a very hands-on mayor,” said spokesman Tom Walsh.

The closest thing to an exception is Bridgeport, where “very occasionally” a police officer will drive Mayor Bill Finch for long-distance trips out of the city, according to spokeswoman Elaine Ficarra. “We’re very choosy about which times that would happen,” Ficarra said.

The only other large-scale New England city that GoLocalProv has confirmed has a regular security detail for its mayor is Boston, where a nine-man team provides full-time security for both Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis. But Boston is also three times the size of Providence and is the capital of a state that is about six times bigger. (The cost of the Boston detail was not available in time for publication.)

Other RI mayors don’t have a security detail either

In Rhode Island, the mayors of Cranston, Pawtucket, and Warwick do not have dedicated drivers or security details.

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“Basically, it’s not necessarily not anything I feel [is] a safety and security concern,” said Cranston Mayor Allan Fung.

 

Fung has even declined the use of a city vehicle, instead driving his own car, an Acura, to work every day. “I felt if I was going to ask employees to sacrifice, it’s going to start at the top too,” he said.

Double the cost of security for Chafee

Usually one of the officers is with Taveras for any public event and doubles as his driver, using the same city-owned Chevy Tahoe that Cicilline had, according to city officials.

The total cost of the security detail for Taveras came out to $516,849 in 2011, which is double the budgeted cost of the detail for Governor Lincoln Chafee, which was $251,579, for the entire 2012 fiscal year and includes salaries as well as benefits, according to Danica Iacoi, the legal counsel for the State Police. (The detail cost $128,440 for the second half of fiscal 2011, when Chafee took office.)

Historically, the protection detail for the Governor has included two state troopers, who work 13-hour shifts and three-day rotations. Providence had four officers in 2011 because they work on different schedules than their state counterparts, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare.

Continues Cicilline practice

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A security detail is nothing new for a Providence mayor. But it attracted attention under Mayor David Cicilline, whose detail came in at $560,487 in 2009, which was his last year in office before he mounted his run for Congress in 2010.

 

Cicilline’s detail was more expensive that Taveras’ because the officers assigned to it racked up just over $57,000 in overtime, city records show. The four officers assigned to Taveras, on the other hand, only logged in $3,295 for overtime—and city spokesman David Ortiz said not all of that time was working for the mayor. Most of it, he said, was working other details. Not counting the overtime, the cost for Taveras’ detail was $513,554.

And that cost is expected to decrease for 2012 after the city reduced the detail from four to three officers several weeks ago, according to Ortiz. He said the decision reflected an effort to balance the need to cut expenses where possible while ensuring the safety of the mayor. City officials said the reduction was not in response to GoLocalProv inquiries about the cost of the detail.

With one less officer on the detail, Ortiz said the total cost would drop by 25 percent. That would make it approximately $380,000 for this year.

Does Taveras need it?

Taveras had originally intended on eliminating the police detail, in keeping with statements he had made during the election. But he reconsidered, when Pare recommended against it, according to Ortiz.

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Pare told GoLocalProv that the decision was made in December 2010, after Taveras asked for his advice and Pare urged him not to go through with it. “He came to me and said, ‘Look I’ve publicly stated I want to get rid of my security detail, if elected,’” Pare recalled.

 

Pare said that he recommended keeping the detail because of “security issues” surrounding the mayor. Pare declined to disclose what those issues are for “obvious reasons.” He added: “I stand by that decision. The security issues still exist and that’s why he still has that security detail.”

(Pare said he did not remember if former Police Chief Dean Esserman, who was hired by Cicilline, was involved in the discussions about whether to return to the detail. Since leaving Providence in 2011, Esserman has taken a position in New Haven, one of the similar-sized cities where the mayor still does not have a detail.)

Former mayoral candidates speak out

Two former mayor candidates, Republican Dan Harrop and Democrat John Lombardi, both defended Taveras.

Lombardi, who served as interim mayor about a decade ago, said a detail makes sense, as long as it is used strictly for city business—not as a 24-and-7 chauffeur. Lombardi said the detail was necessary, especially when the mayor encounters angry constituents who might be upset about something like their taxes going up. “I think it’s a necessity,” Lombardi said. “I truly do.”

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Harrop—who briefly ran as a Republican for mayor, but withdrew from the race and later supported Taveras—said if he was mayor, he would lean on the advice of the police chief and the public safety commissioner. “If my chief said you need the detail because of what’s going on in the city, I would say ‘OK,’” Harrop said.

 

But not everyone agrees. One outspoken taxpayer advocate in Providence, who has been critical of the mayor’s detail in the past, was shocked to learn that the practice has continued. “I think it’s a tremendous waste of money. I think it has been demonstrated that it’s not a standard practice in similar-sized cities,” said Judith Reilly.

She said it’s an especially unnecessary expense given the current budget crisis the city faces. Just yesterday, Taveras warned that the city is facing bankruptcy if it does not gain concessions from retirees and increased contributions from tax-exempt nonprofit hospitals and universities. “It’s just kind of an over-the-top expense the city doesn’t need right now,” Reilly said.

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