Worcester Police Service Aides in the 1970s

Kevin had recently shared a paper called “Police Service Aides: Paraprofessionals for Police,” which was written in 1978 about a program that the Worcester Police Department had initiated in May of 1974. I am not sure how long it lasted (but I welcome commenters who remember!).

We often think (correctly) that Worcester is a backwater that couldn’t find a good idea if it bit the city in the face, but I am always cheered when I see examples that we were ahead of our time, in a good way.

As various people in the city demand defunding of the WPD, and as the Board of Public Health begins to look at racism/discrimination relative to the WPD, it’s interesting to look back at our history to see how we used to handle things a bit differently.

What was a police service aide (or police paraprofessional)? This was a “police specialist” [quotes in this post are from the article] who handled service calls so that sworn officers could be freed up to deal with the active-crime-specific calls.

There were 41 police service aides at the time of the study (in June 1975). I’m not sure how many police/sworn officers there were in 1975, but my copy of the LWV “Here’s Worcester” brochure from 1969 said that at that time there were 306 patrolmen; assuming that there were similar numbers in 1975, this would be 1/5 of the number of patrolmen. The article says that aides responded to “24.7 percent of all radio calls and assist in an additional 8.2 percent of calls,” so this seems pretty accurate for a percentage of aides-to-sworn officers/patrolmen.

Police service aides made a bit less than very junior police officers ($7,280 for the police service aide vs $9,152 for an officer with less than two years’ experience.

Police service aides had special uniforms and marked cars, worked from 10am-2am, but were not armed and did not have the power of arrest. They rode alone (no partner) and were “dispatched directly by the central dispatcher.”

From a diversity perspective, it doesn’t seem horrible for the mid-1970s: “The average age of the forty-one [police service aides] was 22.5 years; 40 percent were female; 12 percent were from racial minorities; and 32 percent were married.”

What types of service calls did they answer? A list from the article:
Snow Complaints
Notifications (All kinds such as: death in family, children arrested by police or outside agencies, children injured, found, etc.)
Assist Citizen
Fire Alarms
Noise Complaints
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Animal Complaints
Stolen and Lost Property
Recovered Property
Stolen and Recovered Vehicles
Missing Persons
Sick Persons
Injured Persons
Defective Streets and Sidewalks
Automobile Obstruction
Parked or Abandoned Motor Vehicles
Children Complaints [one can only wonder what THIS is!]
Rubbish Complaints

[I’d say at least some of these (snow, streets/sidewalks, etc.) are currently handled by DPW Customer Service]

Why did Worcester implement a police service aide program? The article says there were five major reasons for the program:

1 – “[T]he major impetus for the idea came from within the police department. One of the main architects of the plan was a deputy chief who became chief of police in 1975.” (I am not sure if this is John T. Hanlon; a commenter can feel free to correct me.)

2 – “Worcester has a city manager-county type of government. The current city manager, having been in office for many years, used his strong position to support the police service aide program.”

(So, nothing was going to happen without McGrath’s approval – and he did!)

3 – “[T]he Worcester Regional Law Enforcement Committee planners, who actually developed the plan for the grant and who took care of the details required by the state funding process, were very knowledgeable about the internal functioning of the Worcester Police Department.”

4 – “[T]he relative noninvolvement of the police union.” (You can read more about on page 4 of the article, which I find fascinating but which others may find a bit dry. Basically, the police were moving from one union to another for representation, and the new union was negotiating other things and not focused on the issue of police service aides.)

5 – The presentation of the aides to the existing police force was as “supplements” and not as replacements. In addition, 35 additional police officers were hired (in addition to the 40+ police service aides). And finally, this was part of a “major Worcester Crime Impact Program, which was initially funded at an annual rate of $750,000.” This was sold to the regular police officers as a chance to not have to take the crap calls and just focus on “real” police work.

Wrapping up: There isn’t enough in this short article for me to call the police service aides a success. I’m not sure why Worcester discontinued the program; the article says that the program, which had started out partly grant-funded, was now (1978) completely funded by the city. It also indicated that the aides were underutilized (though it’s unclear if they were more ‘underutilized’ than sworn officers).

The program was structured to be part of WPD but without the benefits of being a police officer (retirement, union membership, etc.), and many of the police service aides said that their reasons for joining were so that they would have a leg up when applying to become a police officer.

I will research this more once I can access the WPL’s microfilm collection again, but it’s worth looking back to our history to see a time when nearly 25% of all radio calls did not involve an armed police officer, and where citizens were, by and large, happy with the response to their calls.

We have already had a system where some “police” calls were handled, just fine, by non-police officers, and we can have that system again. It will look quite different than what happened in the 1970s, but I feel confident that this can happen again.

PS – After I wrote this, I decided to see if I could find better numbers for officers/aides. From the T&G column “Override gets “no frills” police operations” (June 17, 1991) by Donald E. Cummings, which seems like a column to encourage a Prop 2 1/2 overrride vote for the police:

“In 1979, Worcester had 355 police officers and 45 police service aides. These 400 police personnel responded to somewhat fewer than 75,000 calls each year and made about 6,000 arrests. Currently 289 police officers – no police service aides – answer 125,000 calls and make more than 11,000 arrests annually.”

And to compare to other cities:

“Providence has 344 police officers, Springfield 374 and Hartford 406, while Worcester’s strength has been reduced to 289 police officers.”

4 thoughts on “Worcester Police Service Aides in the 1970s

  1. This is great and really revealing.

    Had a long conversation yesterday with Judge Mel Greenberg, who spearheaded the formation of the Worcester Human Rights Commission, which was effectively a civilian review board. You surely saw his op-ed the other day, for which he expects to take heat (but is old enough not to care). He also started a mental-health training for police back in the day, probably around the same time-frame. He was part of the ACLU, which was what brought him into this. Eventually NAMI came on board and ran trainings. He’s MORE than happy to talk about this with anyone who can help get the word out.


    • Nicole says:

      Judge Greenberg asked me when I was a little girl if I wanted to be a lawyer, and I told him it was the most boring job I could think of! Please have him reach out to me as I would love to talk with him some more and tell him all about how being a lawyer is still the most boring job 🙂

    • Bill Degnan says:

      I’m sorry, Nicole. But, they looked like Bellhops in their green uniforms. Their first year was my last year, living in Worcester. The only time I really saw them was directing traffic at a large fire.
      Can’t say for sure what killed the program, but I suspect that the money was needed elsewhere and there may not have been the freeing up of patrol officers that was projected. There is many a BS call that quickly turns into an Oh S! call.

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