Earlier this month, newly appointed Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque appeared on the Paying Attention Podcast with Tom Duggan.
(You can download it on Spotify, iHeartRadio, iTunes etc.)
We asked the chief how he is changing the way the police in Lawrence do their jobs.
“I think that the department is energized right now, it’s up to me to make sure that that happens and I think if you have energized guys who want to go out to the job to get the results, I think that reflects in the numbers. Certainly we reorganized the department, took a look at everybody, we put more bodies on the street going from 3 to 9 community police officers as an example. We are trying to get guys to buy into a certain area and work that area and talk to the residents. We assigned one officer to be a liaison with the business community. They are spending the money here, they’re trying to open businesses and we want them to have a voice.
I think right now the guys are feeling really good about what’s going on, we are definitely moving forward with a lot of new technology, with cameras and we are looking to add a canine unit to help the city. Those canines are a huge tool and we miss them in Lawrence.
Looking at the numbers (at right) crime is down significantly in Lawrence – why is that?
It’s a tremendous credit to the men and women of the PD working hard every day. I think a lot of those numbers are in reflection of seeing more bodies on the street, and people thinking twice about committing crimes. We have done a good job building relationships over the years with other law-enforcement agencies whether it is the state, federal, or the sheriff’s department. That’s always been a strategy of mine. Over the years I’ve built a lot of relationships with these guys in different departments and we have had a lot of great help from guys like Joe Solomon and Chuck Gray.”
The drug unit makes a lot of arrests, obviously there’s a lot more we could be doing and the more bodies that we throw at it, the better we can do with that.
Why is the aggravated assault statistic higher do you think?
“What you’re seeing there with aggravated assaults is that we have a lot of new officers who are basically going out and making arrests where before people wouldn’t have been charged. Before, people would be sent on their way after a fight and now we are making arrests and charging more people.
So certainly our crime numbers are looking really good except for commercial burglaries and aggravated assaults.
We’ve had a couple of cases where we are talking about commercial burglaries, we’ve had some homeless issues where we had one individual who hit seven locations on Essex Street. We ended up making the case, locking him up, and charging him with all of those but that was seven burglaries from one guy.
I think the most hardening thing for me is, regardless of where our numbers are, our clearance numbers are really glaring. Sometimes we are triple the national average.
For commercial burglaries, the national average is 13%, last year we were at 40%. So, we have three times the national average. So, I think when those crimes happen the detectives on the department have been very good at following through with stuff not just writing it off and going on to the next call, I think people really invested in trying to investigate each crime and more and more people are being charged as a result.
By taking those people off the street they can’t create more crime. As we all know small number of people do a large majority of the crimes in any community. We really have to get them off the street.”
Question: the department just got new license plate readers in the cruisers. They scan every plate they drive-by and it will tell the officer if the person has a warrant, or if the car is not registered, or insured etc. Can you talk about that?
Talking to the other chiefs, we do have a little bit of difficulty with the plate readers technology-wise. We are working through those glitches but they do work. There are some bugs in the system but again, this is just another tool.
Say what you want about the mayor or the city council, but from my perspective they’ve been pretty great so far with fully funding the PD hiring more officers, I think Mayor Rivera, has hired a number of officers every year that he’s been here and the city council has continued to give us the funding that we need and that’s reflected in the crime numbers.
The more bodies we get on the street, the more arrests we’re going to make and that drives the numbers down. You can’t get into all of that community policing type stuff, and traffic units etc. if you don’t have enough bodies to staff it. Now we are doing the things that the community has been clamoring for years, and that’s lowering the numbers.
Talk about the recent murders and Lawrence?
In my experience, murders are not solved, other than the tragic one we just had, that quickly. A lot of times you have to put a case together, the officers and detectives do a great job and the DAs office and the Massachusetts State Police that are assigned to the homicides as well. Those things take a long time to put together. I just had a talk with a bunch of schoolchildren and it was along the same lines that they think because crimes are solved in an hour on TV, with all the technology and this other stuff. I think TV does a disservice to our police function in that capacity where people think it’s that easy to solve a crime. They think you just go to a computer in the back room plug in the information you get a hit 10 minutes later and the case is over. It just doesn’t work that way.
I will say this in reference to our first murder of this year, we are moving in the right direction, the guys know what they are doing. We are making progress and we are going in the right direction. I am confident in a good outcome on that case.
QUESTION: we published a Video of a guy getting shot on Arlington and Lawrence Street. I know you’ve issued an arrest warrant for that guy I have not heard that you guys have caught him, can you give us an update?
I don’t believe at this point he has been arrested. I know he has been identified we believe he went to another state which is very common, these guys take off and think that if they flee from one area of the country to another we’re not gonna find them. We have put that information out nationwide and we are asking for the public’s help if anyone has information. That incident was not a random incident. There’s history there between the individuals which is what led to that altercation.
Question: The stabbing murder that just happened, from everybody that I spoke to, this was a very bloody scene. Talk about what your guys have to go through from seeing stuff like that.
Lawrence is a busy place. They see a lot of things and that certainly weighs on you as the years go on in your career. It’s not easy to go from incident to incident and serious incident to serious incident, whether we are talking something involving a child being abused or a murder, in this case, the domestic murder. It weighs heavily on them. We have to watch for that and hope that we can de-escalate the way the officer feels, get them some help if they think they need some. There’s a program where they can go talk to somebody without worrying about losing their job. The unions are both very active in coming to us when an officer needs some assistance and we will get them that assistance. Every person is different, and everyone reacts to scenarios differently. I may feel very differently about a scene than someone else does. So we monitor each other, we look out for each other.
Before John Romero was chief I could go over to an officer at the scene and ask him what happened and he would just tell me on the record. Can we go back to the way it used to be?
Every situation is different. If we are talking about a homicide we have to be very careful about what we say in that situation. We don’t want an officer making comments on the scene to someone because a defense attorney is going to use that against us while we are trying to make the case. If you are talking about a car accident, that’s a different story. What we are trying to do is, if someone calls in the station and I’m not there, I will tell the officer in charge, yes you can tell them X, Y, and Z, but we have to be very careful about each situation and who is saying what to whom. You can’t just let people fly off the cuff.
Social media-wise we have tried to put out more information than we ever have and in the last four months, in terms of giving credit to the officers involved, I do that more by naming them when they make a good arrest.
Social media is very effective in letting people know what we are doing and that we are solving these problems. To that point, for the first time ever we put together all the statistics from last year on-line, the good, bad, or ugly. It’s all out there, it’s transparent. So, you can go in there and find out everything that the PD did last year on-line. We put it on the website, we tweet it out, we put it on Facebook, you can look at everything if you click on the link you can look at everything from noise calls to arrests, what the school officers are doing, and what our goals are. I’m trying to be as transparent as we can.
QUESTION: If you had a magic wand and you could convince the legislature, or the mayor or the council to give you something that you guys could really use to make fighting crime in Lawrence better, for you what would it be?
If you want to take the number of cops off the table, I think the one big thing that the police officers deserve and need in the community quite frankly is a new station. That place is horrible. That will make the officers feel good about what they are doing for their job and the public.
It makes them a more professional department. The ideal station is a place where there can be a community room that the community can use for themselves and they can interact with us coming and going. That’s the one thing that I would ask for if I could.
QUESTION: Why does the DA continue to mislead people and say that releasing booking photos is illegal? Is that true?
In the last couple of weeks we’ve been trying to get some clarification, but I will say this, there are obviously certain times when you definitely should not be able to get a booking photo because there may be some identification issues. Let’s say we have a guy that robs somebody and so-and-so is picking him out of a lineup, they consider it prejudicing the case if we have already put his picture out in the news. I would love to plaster people‘s pictures out there and in some cases we can, when we’re talking about prostitution and Johns that we really want to get a message out that if you do this kind of thing in Lawrence we are going to blast your picture out.
But there are certain cases where the DA would prefer us not to do that because they don’t want to give the defense any sort of loophole to get the judge to throw an ID out. We are trying to work with them to get some more clarification on that stuff but it’s not really cut and dry.
If it was up to me I would plaster everybody’s picture out there. I think there’s something to be said about shaming people, but we are working to clarify that, we should have an answer for you shortly.”
PAYING ATTENTION IS RECORDED LIVE AT STUDIO21 PODCAST CAFE IN SALEM, NH