New London police chief could face vote of no confidence

New London - The New London Police Union discussed the possibility of taking a vote of no confidence in Chief Margaret Ackley at a meeting Monday night.

With officers leaving at a rapid clip, and others seeking to leave even before they have worked long enough to repay the city for their training, the union met at the Radisson Hotel to discuss what the union president said is an ongoing morale problem between the rank-and-file officers and the police administration.

Several officers who did not want to be identified said a motion to approve taking a vote of no confidence met with unanimous support.

Union president Darrin Omara said members wanted to clarify and specify their grievances so union officials could decide what action they would take.

Besides the unusual number of departures, Omara said, other issues led to Monday's meeting, including a Municipal Prohibitive Practice grievance filed last month with the State Labor Board's Board of Mediation and Arbitration after Ackley attended a union committee meeting.

Omara said it is his place to extend invitations to union meetings, and he did not do so in this case.

In an e-mail to The Day, Ackley said, "I have not had an opportunity to meet with President O'Mara, but I welcome any input he may have. The department is in the midst of change and some have not adjusted well to the changes necessary to move the department forward to a place of better serving our community and all who work in or visit New London. Standards of conduct and accountability are a must for any professional organization."

Omara offered no details of specific complaints. He said he would prefer to talk about the problems with the chief or with city officials before airing them in public. He said some of the issues the union has are contractual and some are procedural.

The goal, he said, is to establish a better working relationship.

"This process is in its infancy," Omara said. "Many individual incidents led to this point."

On Monday, Mayor Rob Pero supported the work Ackley has done as police chief.

"Chief Ackley has a different way of doing things," Pero said. "She been visible and out in the community."

Although specific numbers were not available Monday night, union members who spoke on the condition of anonymity said as many as 10 officers have left the department this year, including one who took a job in Norwich that pays several thousand dollars less per year.

Omara said the officers who remain in the department and several of those who have left have been dedicated to serving the city. He said morale problems compelled some people to look for more comfortable work environments.

"The fact that officers are leaving screams of a problem with morale," he said. "It should also be a big concern to the citizens of New London. We're losing people that the city has trained and paid."

Ackley was appointed the city's 16th police chief in June 2009. She joined the department in 1986.

She reinstated the deputy chief position that had been eliminated in 2005 budgetary cuts, and appointed Marshall Segar, the former union president, to the post in January of this year.

In August, the department announced a reassignment of leadership in two of its divisions.

Capt. William Dittman, who had been commander of investigative services for more than 15 years, was named to head the patrol division, while Capt. Steven Crowley, who had been head of the patrol division, took over investigative services.

"People don't feel like they can take complaints to her and talk about it," one officer said. "They feel like if they do, they will end up in her dog house and get retaliated against."

c.potter@theday.com

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