After 70 years of keeping watch over female prisoners in the Falls jail, the move to a new city public safety complex in June could doom the jobs of nine jail matrons.

“Two weeks ago (police brass) sat us down at the table in the (police headquarters) conference room and said they were going to dismiss us effective June 1,” said Sue Winchell, a detention aide and the shop steward for the aides who are represented by Teamsters Local 264.

Falls police say the move is strictly an issue of safety in the new jail facility to be located in the soon to be completed Main Street public safety complex.

“The location (of the new jail facility) is a concern because it’s (in the basement) on the court-side of building,” Police Superintendent John Chella said. “That’s a lot of distance away from help if there’s a problem. It’s not like (the current jail) where the detectives are right next to it.”

Chella said he has consulted with the State Commission on Corrections, which oversees the operation of local jails, and has been given permission to supply Tasers to officers assigned to the new jail.

“They told us Tasers can be present in the detention area as long as they are secured,” Chella said. “So that’s what we’re going to do.”

The problem for the city’s one male detention aide and seven matrons is they are not allowed to use Tasers.

“The state penal law does not allow Tasers to be used by civilians,” Chella said.

Winchell said the use of Tasers is just an excuse to get rid of the matrons.

“Matrons have been in the jail for 70 years and we’ve never had to use a Taser,” Winchell said. “They’re trying to just eliminate our positions.”

By law, the female prisoners in the jail must be guarded by female officers or matrons. Currently there are matrons on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

Chella said a study of the jail population over the last two years shows that availability of female aides is unnecessary.

“Our study showed that 69 percent of the time we did not have female prisoners,” he said. “So for the 30 or 40 percent of the time that we do, we’ll have a female police officer in the jail.”

The Falls Police Department currently has six female patrol officers, a female school resource officer, a female warrants officer and two female detectives. If necessary, Chella said some of the savings from the salaries of the matrons can be used to pay female officers overtime to be in the jail.

“If we need them in the jail, we’ll use them there, otherwise they will be on the streets,” Chella said. “If I have to call an officer in, it’s a four-hour minimum, and if the prisoner is released I have the option on then putting that extra officer out on the streets if we’re busy. I can’t do that with a detention aide.”

Chella denied the department is simply trying to get rid of the matrons. He noted the city and the Teamsters are involved in negotiations to find other jobs for some of the affected aides.

“We have not wanted to get rid of (the matrons),” Chella said. “But Tasers are the only non-lethal weapons we can have in the new jail and they can’t use them.”

Winchell dismissed the possibility of new jobs for the matrons, saying they had been offered “housekeeping” opportunities.

“That shows you what they think of us,” she said.