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Natick to charge for use of cruiser in police details

After reviewing the policies of nearby communities, Natick will be charging private companies who want a police cruiser at road construction sites an additional $25 an hour. The Board of Selectmen approved the change last week.

The town charges, on average, $37 an hour to have an off-duty officer stationed at a work site to help traffic maneuver safely past construction equipment and crews, according to Police Chief James Hicks. Until now, companies have not been charged an additional fee if they wanted a cruiser there as part of the paid detail.

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The new charge is expected to go into effect next month.

Framingham charges $48.65 per hour for a ranking officer, and $44.29 for a patrol officer, according to its town manager’s office. There is an additional charge of $25 per hour to have a cruiser on hand.

In Wayland, a detail costs $45 an hour, according to the town’s Police Department. To have a cruiser is an additional $10 an hour.

In Natick, the detail charge includes the contractual rate for the officer working, plus a 10 percent administrative fee, according to Hicks. The administrative fee goes to the town’s general fund, and the contractual rate all goes to the officer, he said.

Natick’s fee will be waived for state Department of Transportation jobs, as well as for town crews and any contractors working for the town. The change will primarily affect private construction companies and utilities, such as Verizon and NSTAR, according to selectmen.

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Both companies said they will continue using cruisers at work sites in Natick, despite the new fee.

“Verizon uses police details where needed for the safety of our workers. Like any new government fee or tax, we need to understand how this will affect consumers,” wrote Verizon spokesman John Bonomo in an e-mail. “We will continue to use cruisers because the safety of our employees is paramount.”

“Whether or not we use a cruiser depends on the job location and traffic conditions,” said NSTAR spokesman Michael Durand. He noted that fees imposed by Natick and other communities drive up the costs of repair and improvement projects, and those costs are ultimately borne by the company’s customers.

There has been an increase in requests for police details in recent months, according to Hicks, and the new fee will cover mileage and wear and tear on cruisers.

“Every day now every cruiser we have is on the road as either patrol or detail,” Hicks said.

When parked at a road construction site, the cruisers are typically left running in order to use the flashers. Otherwise, the lights would drain the vehicle’s battery, said Hicks.

There are alternatives to having a police presence at a worksite. However, there is a local bylaw that requires a police detail if there is a public safety need, according to Hicks.

In 2008, Governor Deval Patrick angered police unions when he allowed civilian flaggers rather than State Police to work at projects on state roads where the speed limit is less than 45 mph.

Companies may also choose to use cones, a flashing arrow, or other means to get traffic to slow in the area. However, Hicks said many prefer to have a cruiser — and with it, the threat of a citation — on hand.

Hicks said that Natick averages 10 to 15 projects daily that require details, with some requiring multiple officers.

John Swinconeck can be reached at johnswinc@ gmail.com.

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