BELMONT — President Marc Spigel and the Massachusetts Volunteer Law Enforcement Officer Association (MA-VLEOA), as well as Chief James MacIsaac and the Belmont Police Department, would like to thank the officers of the Belmont Auxiliary Police Unit for their years of service and generosity to their community as their unit is disbanded.
Formed in 1941, the Belmont Auxiliary Police Unit for decades provided volunteer police services at Town Day, Cushing Square Day, road races, the Memorial Day Parade, Family Safety Day, the town’s holiday tree lighting, Halloween, as well as funeral home details and other community events.
Auxiliary officers wore a different uniform and badge than full-time counterparts, but were well-trained to assist with civil emergencies, special events, and to assist full-time officers with patrol duties at times. For years, auxiliary officers assisted with patrol in marked cruisers, and helped maintain a police presence at schools, municipal property, and special attention areas identified by the department. Auxiliary officers were also ready and trained to assist with missing person searches, extreme weather, and Hazmat incidents.
Chief MacIsaac said his uncle, Harry Oteri, was chief of the Auxiliary Unit in the 1970s and 1980s. MacIsaac said his uncle’s service to the community was a great source of pride for his family.
“Our Italian family was just establishing itself in America, and just having him in the auxiliary unit was a pretty big deal to us back in those days,” said Chief MacIsaac. “It was my first exposure to law enforcement.”
When Chief MacIsaac took the helm of the department in January 2020, he was hoping to expand the auxiliary unit, but was disappointed when the Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) released new regulations for reserve and auxiliary officers that preclude most members of the unit from continuing to serve.
“My goal was to expand their role,” said Chief MacIsaac. “I wanted to look at ways to get them more involved in the operations of the department because I view them as a valuable asset. It’s tough to get people to volunteer the way that members of the unit did, so it was disappointing to me when the changes occurred.”
“They were crucial in adding additional staff on the road, basically at no cost to the town,” said Chief MacIsaac. “They would help with Town Day, Drug Take Back days, and a lot of the community events we have.”
Jim Riccio has served with the auxiliary unit since he graduated from the Massachusetts Reserve Intermittent Police Academy in 1995.
The auxiliary unit was Riccio’s first exposure to law enforcement, and it drew him in immediately.
“I just always had an urge to give back. My mom was always someone who would take care of the elderly in her neighborhood and things like that. She taught me to have pride in my government, pride in my town and pride in my country, and this was just a way of serving and giving back.”
Riccio is also a full-time dispatcher for the Belmont Police Department, and an MPTC-certified firearms instructor.
But while Riccio is certified by the MPTC to teach law enforcement officers to use their firearms, he is not qualified to be an auxiliary police officer, according to the MPTC’s new regulations.
Riccio has been an auxiliary officer for more than 25 years, but he still cannot meet the MPTC’s new requirement that reserve officers have at least 2,400 hours of experience working with arrest powers. Since he volunteered his time as an auxiliary officer, there are no payroll records, such as those required by the MPTC, which prove his experience.
Riccio said the auxiliary police frequently went out on bike patrols, deploying to busy neighborhoods on Halloween and at other key times to create a visible police presence.
“It was really meaningful just to know that you were there to help,” Riccio said. “We were there in a supportive role and I understood that role, as did the whole unit, and we understood how we fit in and what the department expected of us. It was just nice to be out there and to know you could help out.”
Chief MacIsaac said most officers in the unit have similar issues, and will soon lose their certification since they do not have enough hours of experience, as defined by the MPTC.
Chief MacIsaac said he agrees that all auxiliary and reserve officers should be fully trained for the jobs they are asked to perform, but he was hopeful state regulations could be modified to enable existing officers to continue providing service.
“The last thing you want is someone out on the road, armed, who isn’t well-trained and who isn’t going to meet the standards we are held to,” Chief MacIsaac said.
MA-VLEOA is fully supportive of additional training requirements for reserve officers that were implemented as a result of the Massachusetts police reform law, but is pushing for the state to make the hands-on training included in the requirements more widely available on nights and weekends to facilitate the needs of reserve officers who have other full-time careers. The organization is also concerned about requirements that reserve officers have at least 2,400 hours of experience with arrest powers by January 2027, because many of the state’s reserve officers do not work enough hours to meet the requirement. If Reserve Officers do not meet that experience requirement, they must attend a full-time police academy under the new regulations.
President Marc Spigel said reserve and auxiliary police units also provide an excellent pathway into law enforcement, which is especially important as law enforcement agencies around the Commonwealth and country struggle to recruit new officers.
“We warned last year that auxiliary and reserve units would begin to disband due to the new regulations, and that is now happening in Abington, Belmont, Randolph, Southbridge, my hometown of Framingham and possibly Billerica,” said President Spigel. “Despite officers in auxiliary units having decades of experience, including up to 81 years in Belmont’s case, the MPTC has chosen not to provide a viable path forward in this new era for many community-minded people previously trained to standards that the MPTC had set. That is proof that these new, unnecessary hurdles the MPTC has put in place for well-intentioned community members are forcing the hand of local governments in a way that will increase costs for local taxpayers as volunteer services become increasingly unavailable.”
“The disbanding of the Belmont Auxiliary Police is yet another example of a valuable unit of volunteers and community members who want to give back to their communities being unable to do so due to the new regulations, which were not required by the police reform law that was passed by the Legislature,” said President Spigel. “The MPTC has the power to revise these regulations to create a more realistic path to additional training for those who want to serve their communities, and we continue to call on the MPTC to do so. We expect the announcement of additional closures soon unless something is done.”
To learn more about the Massachusetts Volunteer Law Enforcement Officer Association, click here.