New London - The president of the police union said Monday that crime is up in the city and staffing shortages are jeopardizing public safety.
But the police administration cited Uniform Crime Report statistics that show serious crime is going down. In 2011 there were 7,841 crimes reported in the city and for the first nine months of the year, 5,267 crimes were reported, according to Capt. Brian Wright. That projects to slightly more than 7,000 crimes reported for the year.
"I've heard downtown isn't safe and violent crime is way up. ... The numbers are not showing what I'm hearing," Police Chief Margaret Ackley said during a two-hour City Council Public Safety Committee meeting at City Hall.
Councilor Wade Hyslop, chairman of the committee, brought before the committee the police chief and her entire administration - three captains and the deputy chief; along with Union President Todd Lynch and Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to discuss a spate of violent crimes that have occurred over the past six months and to address concerns that there are not enough police to properly patrol the city.
The meeting was recessed without any action taken but will reconvene at 5 p.m. next Monday to continue the discussion.
Hyslop said the meeting was helpful in that all sides voiced their opinions and the councilors were able to hear firsthand comments from the union and the administration.
"I think we need a concentrated effort by the council, the mayor and police department to work together,'' Hyslop said after the meeting. "We need people to understand we are all working together on public safety.''
The community also has a responsibility to help keep the streets safe by reporting criminal behavior, he added.
Lynch sent a letter to the mayor in September and quoted headlines from the newspaper and a readership poll from an online news organization saying the data "paints a troubling picture" of crime in the city.
On Monday, Lynch said there is a disconnect between the administration and rank-and-file who feel they are being penalized for trying to prevent crime. Officers would like to go back to a pro-active type of policing he said, as opposed to a community policing model the chief has implemented.
"The men and women of this department do not feel they can go out and police the community," Lynch said. "And I stand by that statement."
He added that problems in the administration are compelling officers to leave the department.
"People are leaving the city left and right,'' Lynch said. "It does seem they (the administration) aren't looking for solutions to the problems.''
According to Lynch, 27 officers have left the department since July 2009 when Ackley became chief. Those leaving the department include seven retirements, including two long-serving captains; the contract for the deputy chief was not renewed; three officers were forced to resign or quit; and 12 made so-called lateral moves, meaning they left to work in another police department.
During that same time period - July 2009 to the present - the city hired 17 new officers, replaced the deputy chief and promoted two captains from within its ranks.
The department now has 80 sworn officers, down from a high of 95 two years ago.
Although the 2012-13 budget left 10 positions vacant, there is still $250,000 to hire new officers. But bringing on new hires can take several months for a transfer from another department, to more than a year for a brand new officer who has to go through the police training academy.
Capt. Steven Crowley said some have left because they feared they would lose their jobs. During the city's contentious budget debate, 10 officers received layoff notices but all the layoffs were eventually rescinded.
Capt. Todd Bergeson said he is working on better scheduling to save overtime costs, sometimes foregoing filling an empty slot on a slow day so he can bring in extra officers during a busy weekend.
Also in an effort to control costs and maximize manpower, Deputy Chief Peter Reichard changed the scheduling matrix to have more officers on during busy times when they can be deployed to high-crime areas.
"I didn't expect miracles out of this meeting, but I think it's healthy to get everyone's comments on the record all at once and all together,'' Council President Michael Passero near the end of the meeting. "I'm leaving feeling we are headed in the right direction.''