Police Say Protective Custody Fee a Punitive Measure, Not a Profitable One
Police Chief O'Neill said he wants to cut back the amount of intoxicated persons staying at the station at the expense of the town
Police Chief Arthur O'Neill says the upcoming warrant article proposing to charge anyone taken into protective custody $200 is not a way for the department or the town to make money, but a measure that will have a "chilling effect" on patrons who drink to excess; landing themselves at the station in the care of the town.
The discussion was part of a first time run-through of some of the 44 articles on the draft Town Meeting warrant, and the board concentrated on articles that did not refer to budget numbers. The budget article will be aired at a subsequent meeting, once the finance committee has firmer numbers.
"Between us and the (Foxboro) stadium, the word will go out," O'Neill told selectmen Wednesday.
The town of Foxboro recently instituted the same $200 fee - public safety personnel in that community deal with many hundreds of protective custody cases every year.
O'Neill said his department has been working on wording for the proposal since last summer, exchanging ideas with Foxboro. "The most important thing is that this is not a drunkenness bylaw," he said, adding if someone is inebriated but not driving, and has a sober adult to take care of them, it is a different issue. "We are not in the business of making money off somebody's transgressions," O'Neill said.
"It's when we have to take care of them," he said. "People need a reminder that there is a cost to certain actions." But he did not minimize the value of the money that would be collected to the department. "To be perfectly practical and honest about it, the money will go a long way toward enhancing operations," he said.
O'Neill assured the board the protective custody status and the fee do not impact anyone's criminal record, unless the person refuses to pay up and is taken to court.
Board member Jess Aptowitz recalled when he went to a concert himself last year at the Comcast Center, he was witness to the immediate impact on the police and fire departments of the dozens of very drunk young people who needed care.
Aptowitz said apart from the taxing effects of finding and bringing in the incapacitated patrons, costs continue to multiply even days after a concert event, when parents are still contacting the station. "There are costs people don't even realize," he said.
Selectmen supported the article, and said they will work with Town Counsel Paul DeRensis on wording that will combine it with another article to create a revolving account for the money that is collected.
The board also voted to leave a proposal on the warrant that will add 3/4 of one percent to the existing 6.25 percent tax levied on meals at Mansfield restaurants. Only one board member actually supported the measure, some saying imposing any tax at all on already suffering small businesses is not something they wanted to do.
A number of area communities have added the tax since Massachusetts towns and cities were given permission by the Legislature last year to use it as a revenue raising measure.
Member George Dentino called it a "self-inflicted tax," and said for the estimated $250,000 that would be collected from the town's many restaurants, a number of staff members like teachers or firefighters could be hired. "For a $100 bill, it would cost you 75 cents," he said. "It's not imposing on anyone. This one isn't harmful - it's insignificant, and easily handled by most."
Member Jess Aptowiz said he was "personally dead set against it," but later said he would not vote to remove it from the warrant. "Let the people make the call," he said.
Discussion of all the articles on the warrant will continue during April, and public input is invited.