"It was almost like it was an inconvenience that I called," said the 45-year-old father of two. "I stayed here for about a half an hour, but I never saw anyone."

With night patrols frequently hitting the shift minimum of five patrol officers, one sergeant and a lieutenant, Cotreau's neighborhood of East Taunton is one that sometimes goes without a patrol, according to Patrolman Steven Turner, who is president of the Taunton Police Patrolmen's Association.

"The city is split into nine sectors, but there are only five covered on most shifts," said Turner, an 18-year veteran of the force. "That means that several times during the week, some of the nine sectors aren't being covered."

Turner said shift minimum requirements should be closer to seven, eight or even nine officers on patrol, but he recognized that with a union contract that comes with hefty health benefits, a pension program that gives 80 percent of the officer's salary during his or her final year of service and lots of vacation time, hiring new officers means more than just providing a salary.

"I understand that it's very hard if you put one person on. Their salary is X amount, but then you factor in vacations and benefits," he said. "A lot of times it's cheaper to pay an overtime person because you're not adding someone on there with benefits."

During the week of May 14 - 70 officers, more than half of the department's 114 - collected overtime, ranging in take-home figures of $25 to $1,166, although the majority took home between $200 and $300.

On top of that, officers work shifts doing details, which are paid for by contracting companies, are performed in addition to the 40-hour week of the officer, and are quite lucrative for the man or woman performing the job.

Between detail work, overtime and court time - paid like an overtime shift - some members of the department bring in more than double their base salary.

Sgt. Michael Grundy, for instance, works in the vice unit doing drug investigations, performing search warrants and responding to the many drug tips that come into the police department each week.

Patrolman Richard Bernier, who has been the city's meter officer for the last six months, said since he switched from covering the overnight patrol shift to the non-patrol position of meter officer, he was started picking up detail shifts.

"For fifteen years I never picked up a detail shift," said Bernier, a 24-year veteran "But now I'm out doing details about once every two weeks."

"While on detail, the officer is still part of the Taunton police department," Police Chief Raymond O'Berg said, explaining the officers are allowed to use police vehicles, they wear their uniforms and are still covered by the department's insurance.

"The backup officer was on another call, so he had to clear that before he could get there to help," Turner said. "It took him a while to get there, and when you're in a tussle, five minutes is a lifetime."

"I've been on for 18 years, and it's only been the last two years that we've had to force people," Turner said. "It never happened before, but it's dangerous."

Although the union and police chief say the best solution to the problem would be to hire more officers, Mayor Robert G. Nunes did not grant the chief's request for new officers when it came time to make the fiscal 2007 police budget.

The $10.1 million budget that passed allows for contractually required salary increases, a $900,000 increase in the overtime budget, and increases for other expenses like inflated gas prices and supplies.

The city council asked the mayor to consider the personnel problems of the department when deciding in November how to use the supplemental budget.

some residents say part of the problem is that there are too many non-patrol positions - at least a third of the department - leaving the city with too few patrol officers covering 50 square miles of Taunton.

The one non-patrol position that was negotiated since O'Berg has been chief was that of the detail officer, who is responsible for scheduling details and working with the contracting companies.

"A lot of those jobs, I think, should be done by civilians," said Cotreau, a carpenter. "The cops should be out in the field, period. You've got you're detectives, you've got your shift commanders, but I'd say 90 percent should be out in the field."

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