New Bedford Police Union Questions ‘Fat’ Training Programs During Lean Budget Year
10/01: This story has been updated with cost information from the New Bedford Police Department.
A press release from the New Bedford Police Department highlighting Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro's new emphasis on "leadership growth and personal development" for patrol officers has inspired pushback from the union president who is questioning the cost of "self-help workshops" during a time of tight public safety budgets.
"The chief's unnecessary projects should be deferred until the City is in a financially secure position," wrote Hank Turgeon, president of the New Bedford Police Union, in an open letter sent to WBSM News and posted to social media.
Police department communications director Mellissa Batchilder this week sent the region's media outlets a press release with the headline "New Bedford Police officers stay nimble through continuing education on the job." The announcement touts two new training workshops available to officers -- "Blue Courage" and "Polishing the Badge."
Blue Courage addresses the "whole person," the press release stated, "and is designed to address many of the challenges police officers can face." Polishing the Badge looks at "concepts of self-awareness, self-regulation, mindfulness, and the power of paradigms to increase personal leadership efficacy."
Cordeiro is quoted as as saying he supports education for officers "to ensure they are grounded in what it takes to meet the needs of today's world." The document cites "supportive and encouraging" feedback from officers, and quotes patrol officer Marc Felix as saying the two programs "are really helpful in identifying ways we can improve as individuals, police officers, and future leaders."
Turgeon in his response said that the New Bedford Police Union does in fact support continued education. However, he said the combined cost for the two classes is approximately $50,000, which does not include money "spent on police officers forced on overtime to backfill for the officers who are required to take the classes."
Update: Police spokeswoman Mellissa Batchilder reports that the combined cost of the training sessions is $16,500. Blue Courage LLC provided two sessions at $14,300 and Team Training Assoc. provided a single training at $2,200. She said no repeats are scheduled.
Turgeon told WBSM that the union believes the funds should contribute to a broader effort to maintain police officer positions. The police union has been sharply critical of Mayor Jon Mitchell's fiscal 2021 budget, which features deep cuts to public safety. Among other items, the budget eliminates nine desk officer positions to save about $620,000 annually. Turgeon said promises to put those officers on patrol have not panned out because minimum staffing requirement were also cut by three officers for every shift.
Turgeon said the union has proposed alternative cuts, including "eliminating fat, non-essential positions, training classes and a mediation program." He charged that the suggestions, that include eliminating a communications director position and three other civilian positions, have fallen on deaf ears. He said the union's proposed cuts would amount to several hundred thousand dollars.
Turgeon also took issue with the press release's claim that the two trainings are relevant "to the practices of de-escalation and duty to intervene," and said officers who attended the workshops reported they did not include de-escalation training.
"It is obvious that the Chief is only using the currently popular phrase "de-escalation" to appeal to the public's concern," Turgeon wrote in his response.
Turgeon said the union welcomes the idea of de-escalation classes, cultural diversity programs, or training about mental health issues, but charged that the two current "self-help programs" are luxuries during a time when Mitchell and Cordeiro "are defunding the police and reducing the number of police officers" on patrol.
Meanwhile, Cordeiro is suggesting that the workshops are well-worth it.
"We had one officer tell us, 'I wish I could have had this training 20 years ago. My job and life might have been easier,' while another said he was tired but kept going because 'This is the best training I have ever been to," said Cordeiro in a statement.
WBSM News has asked for copies of the vendor contracts to ascertain the cost of the two trainings.