THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Lawrence residents stage march to support police, firefighters

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By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / May 8, 2011

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LAWRENCE — Chanting “Yes we can’’ in Spanish and English, about 100 supporters of the city’s fire and police departments rallied in front of City Hall yesterday and marched through downtown in what organizers said was a response to Mayor William Lantigua’s critical remarks earlier this year about the departments.

“I believe those comments were irresponsible and inflammatory and the working police officers in this city have definitely felt the impact of his comments,’’ said Alan Andrews, a 22-year veteran of the Police Department and president of the Lawrence Patrolmen’s Association.

“We rely on a certain amount of authority and respect to do our jobs, and when the leader, the ultimate authority in the city, demonstrates disrespect, it deprives us of the respect and authority that we need to maintain peace and public safety,’’ Andrews said before the march yesterday.

Lantigua has apologized for comments he made earlier this year that members of the Fire Department are lazy and that a detective treated him like a criminal after he filed a police report saying that he was almost run down by someone in a car. Lantigua also apologized for suggesting that police might plant evidence against him.

When told of the march and Andrews’s comments, Lantigua said: “I’m not going to reply to those things because it is in the past. I am focused on the work ahead of me, on making this city a better place for the residents.

“It is a great sign that people were out marching, supporting those departments,’’ he said. “It shows that they are engaged in the civic process and that’s something that I welcome in this city.’’

Lantigua inherited a massive deficit that last year required a $35 million bailout from the state. In the past year, the city has reduced the number of police officers from 151 to 111.

Police officials said the budget cuts have resulted in serious crimes such as robberies, assaults, rapes, and car thefts rising 50 percent in the past year.

The mayor acknowledged that some of his decisions have been unpopular but defended his actions. Lantigua said he has reinstated nine police officers since last July, but he said they have had to serve in the patrol unit to maintain as much visibility in the community as possible.

In addition to budget problems, Lantigua is facing state and federal investigations into possible corruption and other potential wrongdoing at City Hall, law enforcement officials have said.

Throughout the approximately mile-long route of the march, organized by The Working Together/Lawrence First Committee, onlookers honked car horns or gave thumbs-up gestures.

The march paused in front of the Fire Department headquarters on Lowell Street, where about a dozen firefighters stood.

City Councilor Marc Laplante participated in the march and said Lantigua’s comments, on top of staff cuts, have brought down morale in the departments.

“Clearly there seems to be a real struggle within our leadership to support the Police Department,’’ he said. “It’s very unfortunate that the mayor decided to take the stance that he has several times that places him in an antagonistic position with respect to police and the Fire Department.’’

The mayor did have supporters among the people who stepped out of restaurants and stores to watch the march.

“I don’t know what’s going on between the police and the mayor, but I would believe that the mayor is doing the best job possible for this city when it comes to public safety,’’ said Jack Ross, 48. “I don’t think this mayor should be investigated. If they want to investigate someone, why don’t they go after the last mayor who left . . . a $35 million deficit.’’

“This is not a politically motivated process,’’ said Johny Castillo, president of the committee that organized the march. “This is a civic movement. We’d like to keep a decent relationship between the police and the fire and the residents of this city.’’

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.