Conclusion of a two-part story
By M. E. Jones
DEVENS -- The plan of Harvard Police Chief Edward Denmark would be to assign a patrol car and at least one police officer to "the Devens sector" at all times, he said, just as they are assigned to the north and south sides of the town of Harvard.
His comment came during a public forum held in Devens on the topic of police services. Harvard selectmen and the Devens Committee were present as were members of the community.
Currently, Devens is covered by Massachusetts State Police.
A Devens Committee member asked about heavy truck traffic through Devens, some of it railroad containers headed to and from the industrial zone. The trucks are not supposed to come through residential areas, but they sometimes do, she said. "I feel the Mass State Police have been enforcing that (regulation) very well," she said. "You'd need to be vigilant."
Another potential problem the police would be expected to be on the lookout for was weekend events held at Devens that draw big crowds, up to 5,600 on Memorial Day. "There have been issues," the residents said. Folks from out of town attending those events sometimes get rowdy and have been known to wander onto private property -- the townhouses across from the parade ground field, for example -- drinking, even urinating in people's bushes.
Citing his own research, Denmark said the state police call in added resources from other barracks to police such events. "With your own police department ... the same officers that provide services regularly would respond in such circumstances, he said. "We'd know where the problem areas are."
Committee member Phil Crosby said he's satisfied with the state police. "I worked with the condo association to get where we are," he said. "We won't accept anything less."
"I'm pro state police now and I don't think it's time to change until disposition is decided," Crosby continued.
After further discussion, however, Crosby later changed his mind. "I'm open to the idea," he said. "If we become a town, we'd probably partner with a neighbor for police services." The point in that case seemed to be, why not Harvard?
On the other hand, if jurisdiction returns to the towns after disposition, "we'd have a leg up," with Harvard already policing the Devens area, he said. "We'd be familiar with them and they'd know our community," Crosby said.
A Walnut Street resident who declined to give her name was clearly irked by what she considers Harvard's superior attitude toward Devens. "I didn't move to Devens because I wanted to live in Harvard," she said.
She agreed things should stay as they are for now and was outspoken in her opposition to a change in police services at this time. She was more concerned with "long-term solutions," she said, charging that Harvard's initiative now was all about money.
"I take a bit of offense with the negative comments coming out of Harvard and Ayer" about Devens issues, she said. "Sometimes it's just a matter of filling your coffers, but this is serious business ... people's lives."
Kathleen Bernklow, also of Walnut Street and a former member of the Devens Education Advisory Committee, pointed out that the current education contract with Harvard is another example of a financial incentive provided by MassDevelopment that will not be there when the state agency decamps.
The best bet might be to leave things alone until disposition is determined, she said. Otherwise, deals for service contracts should incorporate provisions for the future.
But Denmark tried to debunk the impression that Harvard residents consider Devens residents "second class citizens" or that public officials' only reason for establishing a link between the two communities is financial gain.
His parents were "base dependents" and he grew up on Devens and in nearby Ayer, he said. He knows the territory well. As a public safety official, the monetary value of the police contract is not his concern. People are, and in this case, building relationships.
"My interest has nothing to do with money," he said. "If we could not provide anything and everything you need, I would tell our selectmen."
Crosby conceded that Denmark was an impressive advocate. "You're one hell of a salesman," he said.
But others said this was not the right time to upset the arrangement. Knowing it won't last forever, it works well now and should continue, they said, and that's likely what the Devens Committee will recommend to MassDevelopment, Chairman Tom Kinch said.
The takeaway was that in the committee's estimation, the future of Devens is a primary consideration for any changes in service contracts now. "We're very concerned about the level of service you'd provide," compared to the services MSP provides, Kinch said.
Discussion continued. Basically, the Devens Committee consensus was that they liked Denmark and felt he was sincere. Another plus was that although other selectmen might have opposed strengthening the town's ties with Devens, Selectman Ronald Ricci had consistently supported it.
On the minus side, however, they noted there's no direct roadway access between the two communities and that efforts to change that situation would go a long way toward establishing trust and might be "a clear measure of an attitude change..." In which case, the idea of Harvard Police covering Devens might sit more comfortably.