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Law And Order of Priority: Chief Makes Crime List

September 12, 1990

FITCHBURG, Mass. (AP) _ For police Chief Edward Gallant it was a pretty simple equation: more crime and less money to pay overtime. So, he made a list of crimes in order of severity and ordered his force to work from the top down.

That’s when he ran up against another simple fact: Some residents of this city of 40,000 about 40 miles northwest of Boston were not prepared to hear that their police department was no longer a phone call away.

The policy requires residents to go to the police station report cases of minor assault or petty larceny, rather than calling an officer to their homes.

Gallant, whose department of about 70 received 26,000 calls last year, said prioritizing has been a fact of life for more than two years in Fitchburg.

But the formal list, released last month, prompted some complaints.

″I’ve definitely found that the response has been that they would have rathered that I didn’t say anything,″ Gallant said last week. ″People have to face reality and this is certainly reality and I had to provide reasonable guidelines to my people.″

Councilman Bernard Foley said the policy should have been debated by council before being implemented and perhaps volunteers could help bolster the force.

″I think the kind of comments I’m getting (from residents) is they’re not all that happy with some of the delays that may result for some of the lesser priority actions,″ Foley said.

The economic crisis gripping Massachusetts translated to a $1.2 million cut in Fitchburg, which has an overall budget of $45 million, said Mayor Jeffrey Bean, who supports the crime list.

The police department has lost about $75,000 in overtime and has been unable to hire more officers for the last three years, Gallant said.

Overall crime rates have increased about 10 percent over the past few years, he said. In 1989 the city had two murders, 33 rapes, 58 robberies, 384 assaults, 570 burglaries, 1,340 larcenies over $500, 200 auto thefts and 14 cases of arson.

The department’s list divides crime into seven ranked ″priority″ crimes and four ″non-priority″ offenses. The list was written down to guide officers if they are swamped with calls.

The seven priority crimes begin with felonies in progress involving violence or potential violence and end with a misdemeanor (not in progress) currently being reported with an identified witness or complainant.

Police also instituted a self-reporting system for the non-priority offenses of vandalism and larceny below $250 and minor assault, excluding domestic violence.

Also on that list are shoplifting below $250 and a nonviolent misdemeanor where the complainant declines to identify himself, for example, anonymous calls reporting loud parties.

Gallant said officers wasted the most time on noise complaints, because so many callers were unwilling to let their neighbors know they made the calls.

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