Violent crimes in Tiverton are on the rise - and have been over the past 10 years. But despite increases in population and crimes against persons in the last decade, the Tiverton Police Department has not received increases in staffing.
Tiverton has the second highest number of crimes - after Newport - in the county, according to an annual State Police statistics report, yet it operates with a police force that does not meet minimum federal staffing requirements.
"Federal guidelines are that we are supposed to be between 31 to 32 [officers] in order to be a proactive police department and not a reactive one," said Chief Thomas Blakey in an interview on Tuesday. Tiverton has 27 officers.
"Currently our staffing is low, but with the restructuring of the department we were able to get another officer for the next fiscal year and we are trying to add another so that we end up with 29 officers - excluding myself," Blakey added.
A drive-by shooting at a Stafford Road pub in north Tiverton on Saturday reminded Blakey and public information officer Capt. Patrick Jones that the police department needs support from the town to combat growing crime trends.
"We are dealing with more and more serious types of crime in Tiverton - breaking and entering, armed robberies - for Tiverton this has not been the norm, but unfortunately it seems to be becoming one," said Jones, "It is very disturbing for myself, the chief, and the men and women of the police department, as should be for the community."
Blakey stressed the dedication of of Tiverton's 27 officers and said that generally they maintain a good quality of life in Tiverton. Adding that Tiverton, being located next to Fall River, contributes to the town's overall crime rate. Fall River is Massachusett's sixth largest city, has an unemployment rate of 15 percent and also has high instances of felony crime that sometimes spills over to border into Tiverton.
"We are the second busiest town in the county after Newport, but they have a much larger agency in Middletown with lot more resources, we have the second largest coastline in the state and a large geographic area of 33 square miles," said Blakey. "It's a lot to look at with minimum staffing."
Middletown, which has just 590 more residents than Tiverton and less than half of the total coverage area, scored significantly fewer felony crime tallies in the State Police 2011 Uniform Crime Report. Tiverton made 827 total arrests compared with Middletown's 777. in 2012 Tiverton saw 893 such arrests, according to Jones.
"Middletown has a 40 plus officer department - we have 27 and we have significantly higher crime," said Jones. "Their crime statistics are not reflective of ours. Middletown probably is where they should be, it's us that is not."
Budgetary constraints are the main reason that Tiverton has not seen an increase in recruits over the past decade - Blakey said it costs about $100,000 and a takes a full year from application to when an officer is road-ready.
"There is no question that we feel that Tiverton is a beautiful, safe community, but in order to maintain that there needs to be a discussion into the police department," said Jones.