By Christina Hager

METHUEN (CBS) – The process is underway for the Methuen Police force to be slashed in half. “It’s crushing, because you don’t know what you’re going to do,” said Officer Terri Lavallee, who’s been with the department for 15 years. “I’m scared. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m a single mother. I have three kids. I’m their sole means of support.”

“We issued layoff notices for 50 individuals, and we’ve been honest with the council and the public. It may be more,” said the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Paul Fahey, who blames the City Council.

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But Councilman Steven Saba told WBZ, “That was their choice to do that. I think the patrolmen are being used as pawns.”

Methuen Police Officer Terri Lavallee (WBZ-TV)

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Fahey said the department has no choice, because the Council made an unusual move in the midst of a contract dispute. “They cut the police department budget by about $1.8 million. They put that money in a reserve fund. That’s where it sits,” he said.

Dozens of officers are left hanging. “I’m scared for my brother and sister officers,” said an undercover officer whose wife is pregnant with their third son. “I didn’t sleep last night, consoling my wife, just wondering how I’m going to pay my mortgage, take care of my kids.”

He’s caught in the middle of a battle over a proposed contract giving police captains an 18 percent raise in the first year. Councilman Saba said that would make their salary more than five times the average income of Methuen residents. “I think the Mayor and the union’s counsel should come up with a plan that’s more realistic and fair to the city.”

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But being fair to the city means protecting its people. Officers on track to leave in the next few weeks say that is exactly what’s in jeopardy. “It would be a public safety emergency,” said Officer Lavallee. “It’s crushing.”

Christina Hager