DEVENS -- According to George Ramirez, an audit of Devens police services is now a public document and may be released on written request.
Ramirez, executive vice president for Devens operations, says a letter he received from Harvard Selectmen Chairman Lucy Wallace may be the first such request. The board has been seeking access to the audit report for some time.
The audit report was prepared for the agency before it renewed its contract with the Massachusetts State Police to provide police services to Devens.
"The contract was antiquated and incomplete," Ramirez told JBOS at its recent meeting.
He said MassDevelopment commissioned the audit to ensure Devens continues to get high quality police service and used the report as a guide to write an up-to-date contract before renewing with MSP.
Ramirez said the audit had to be kept under wraps until the contract was signed.
"A lot of smart folks may agree or disagree, but in my view, it only became a public document after the state police contract was signed," Ramirez said.
The contract runs for two years. When it expires, MassDevelopment aims to open up the bidding process, but Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, are the only municipalities that will be invited to submit proposals, Ramirez said.
Ramirez seemed still cautious about releasing the audit.
"It seemed to me at first that (town officials) often asked verbally for information," he said. But as an attorney, he
Harvard selectmen have reached out more than once in their quest to get the audit report. Selectman Tim Clark said he had cornered Ramirez after a JBOS session and asked him for a copy.
Accordoing to Clark, Ramirez said he could not do so until the MSP contract was signed. Clark seemed skeptical of the reasons he said he was given at the time.
For example, he said Ramirez noted "complexities" peripheral to policing that were related to or part of the existing MSP contract that had to be worked out before the new contract was signed and the audit could be made public.
In his recent discussion with JBOS, Ramirez may have shed light on one of those contractual sidebars. MSP rents the airfield for training purposes, he said. That agreement is now separate and long-term, while the police contract is only for two years.
MassDevelopment must give MSP a year's notice if it intends to seek other options when the current contract expires in 2014.
Requests for proposals will go out next year when the agency aims to initiate a "candid, roundtable discussion," Ramirez said.
Joint Boards of Selectmen Chairman Tom Kinch asked if the towns should "indicate interest" now.
Harvard already has.
In answer to a reporter's question outside the meeting room, Ramirez said that was neither the case nor the intent. If he seemed overly cautious, he was going by the book and must answer to the state in such matters, he explained.
Responding to Kinch's question, Ramirez said he won't "start soliciting" now, but those interested in the job could start doing homework.
While specific talks might be ruled out, JBOS launched a general discussion on the issue.
Asked if the audit report was an indicator of what the RFP would look like, Ramirez said it was no template but could be "an "informative tool."
Member Enrico Cappucci, JBOS representative for the Shirley Board of Selectmen, wasn't shy about getting specific, however.
"I was a police chief for 20 years," he said. "I think Harvard would not be a good candidate."
As a former chief in Duxbury, he cited an example there to back his point. There's a small island at the end of Duxbury Beach that belongs to Plymouth. To get there, Plymouth public safety responders must take Route 3, then traverse the 7-mile beach in a 4x4 vehicle, he said, slowing response time significantly. So Duxbury was asked to provide emergency response services to the island.
Harvard could be in a similar pickle, with no direct Devens access via any town road. The quickest way to Devens from Harvard would be Route 2 or through Ayer via Barnum Road.
"Any time delay when there's a serious incident could be dangerous," he said.
Shirley shares a border with Devens; Hospital Road segues to Devens and runs right past the police station. But with only eight police officers, Shirley Police Department couldn't police Devens without substantially upping its staff.
Currently, Devens has 10 police officers, trimmed from 12.
"I think it would be tough to outbid the state police," Cappucci concluded.
Traditionally, the alternative to increasing staff is to cut services, Kinch said. "I assume you don't intend to do that?"
Ramirez said downsizing Devens police from 12 to 10 officers was cost-effective at the right time and had not compromised public safety in any way.
Member Phil Crosby, a Devens resident, wondered if the group had strayed into discussing elements of the nascent RFP. If so, "I'd say you carefully spell out what's needed here to see who qualifies," he said.
"We need to be mindful that the community would be involved in some way," Ramirez countered. "I'd take input at some point, see what their thoughts are."
"It's not a lot of time, really," Kinch said. "If we can help, we will." But JBOS also anticipates "regular updates" as the process moves forward.
Ramirez said he'd seek a legal opinion from his agency's general counsel about that.
"Someday, Devens will need to build its own police department," Cappucci suggested.
But the community isn't a town and has no mechanism to do that now," Crosby pointed out.
Ramirez said if the town-building idea takes hold, he'd press for a regional option versus the traditional model, in which each community structures its own public safety framework, with burdensome costs and self-protective barriers that are tough to deconstruct.
Speaking of which, Cappucci asked what would happen to the regional E-911 dispatch center if Devens becomes a town.
It would not be affected. "It's an independent body operated under the jurisdiction of the participating communities," Ramirez said.
Kinch asked if there would be any hurdles to a town providing police services on Devens while it's still state land.
Ramirez said he assumed not, since it's covered in Chapter 498.
Cappucci suggested that police officers would be "deputized" to work on Devens.