The president of the New London Police Union has called for an effort to increase police coverage and staffing in the city, claiming staffing levels are well below where they should be.
In a letter to Mayor Daryl Finizio, Todd Lynch says several union members expressed concerns at the last general membership meeting on “critical patrol staffing shortages that [are] jeopardizing public safety and our officer safety.” He cited recent violent incidents, including a brawl at the Wild Style Motorcycle Club and the murder of Javier Reyes; a New London Patch poll in which 18 of 32 respondents said they did not feel safe in downtown New London; and a NeighorhoodScout.com ranking of New London as the 87th most dangerous city in the country with populations of 25,000 or more.
Lynch said a 2006 report by OSS Law Enforcement Advisors recommended that the New London Police Department have a force of 118 police officers. He said the number of officers has declined from a high of 95 to a current force of 76.
“Your prior public statements explaining why the number of officers who have fled is attributed to their resistance to new institutional changes implementing community based policing practices is inaccurate and misleading,” Lynch wrote. “You have been provided letters from recently resigned officers that paint [a] radically different picture of the police department that has nothing to do with community policing.”
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Although Lynch does not name Chief Margaret Ackley in the letter, he asks Finizio to “honestly address the internal police administration problems head on.” The police union website says the highest authorized force of 95 officers was in 2010, but that 27 officers have left since Ackley became chief in June of 2009. The union says 17 officers have been hired since that time, and that nine of these have left while three others are in the hiring process to go to other departments.
Lynch has also filed a lawsuit against Ackley accusing her of acting in a retaliatory manner against him and requested an investigation into her e-mails to resident Kathleen Mitchell in which Ackley recommends that Mitchell should look into the personnel records for Lynch and several other union members. Finizio said last week that an investigation into the latter issue has concluded and the findings should be released by the end of the week.
Lynch says union members are concerned that the staffing levels will put officers at risk by dispatching them to high-crime areas or volatile situations without adequate backup. He asks Finizio to reinstate a minimum patrol staffing of five sector cars and two downtown posts with additional staffing on evenings with increased attendance at bars. He also requests a recruitment drive to bring new officers to the department.
Finizio agreed that the police force should be increased, saying he supported increasing the number of officers by six over the 2011 levels during his campaign. He said he thinks the number of officers can be replenished over the next several budget cycles.
“The patrol strength in the city is not where I would ideally like it to be,” he said.
However, Finizio said he considered that the patrol strength is adequately staffed at this time and that the staffing levels are not having a direct effect on public safety. He said the administration has been working with the police union as well as Ackley and Deputy Chief Peter Reichard to address concerns.
Finizio said the city finances are the main impediment to increasing the number of officers in the police department.
“This year, we’ve been working to remain within a very tight budget that at one point required potentially laying off 10 officers,” he said.
The layoffs also would have kept 11 positions vacant for the 2013 fiscal year. The administration later reached a tentative agreement with the police union promising that no layoffs would occur in the fiscal year.
A 2011 budget proposal by Interim City Manager Denise Rose included a recommendation to add a lieutenant, 11 police officers, and a part-time crime analyst to the NLPD ranks. However, the council approved only a full-time crime analyst in its final budget.
The current 2013 municipal budget, passed last week after the first budget was rejected at referendum, cuts $250,000 from the police department by leaving six vacant positions unbudgeted. Two city councilors, Marie Friess-McSparran and John Maynard, voiced their concerns about the police cuts in voting against the budget.
Councilor Adam Sprecace, who supported the budget, said he thought there were sufficient funds to begin the hiring process for the positions without impacting the 2013 budget. Finizio also said this course of action will be possible.
“We are still planning to move forward with the hiring process,” he said.