Groton study about service provided by police, times three

Groton - It's not a police department consolidation study.

Officials in the town's three political subdivisions awaiting release of a study evaluating police services in the town, city and Groton Long Point departments agree on that.

Rather, the overdue study by the Police Executive Research Forum is expected to answer how the three departments stack up in terms of service, how they may increase cooperation and what the cost per capita is for each.

The nonprofit group that conducted the study was asked to examine things such as patrol staffing and calls for service, management system efficiency and use of resources, and recommend best practices and analyze costs.

The study was commissioned in part because of mounting budget concerns that have in the past led to reductions in funding to the city and Groton Long Point departments. The study is expected to be available in time for upcoming budget discussions.

"The intent was to look at the three departments with an eye on proper coverage," Town Manager Mark Oefinger said. "Are there things we could be doing cooperatively?"

Oefinger said the study is in draft form and additional data is being gathered from Groton Long Point and city police departments. He has also requested some information on some of the study's conclusions.

How the study gets used is unclear, and any recommendations may take time to implement, Oefinger said.

"I do think there will be good information in there that allows all three departments to do a better job from a public safety standpoint," he said.

Oefinger said it was not good public policy to have "wild swings" in public safety funding.

While the town is not obligated to fund the city and Groton Long Point departments, past practice has been to fund their budgets by about 50 percent, minus the chiefs' salaries. But the Town Council and Representative Town Meeting have reduced those contributions in past years.

In 2010, the RTM did not include any funding for the Groton Long Point Police in response to a $208,000 request to cover 31 percent of their budget. The move was a reaction to comments by former Groton Town Police Chief Kelly Fogg that the town could cover the area with little additional cost.

The town fully funds Groton Town Police Department, the largest of the departments with about 68 sworn officers. The city police department is about half the size of the town's, and the Groton Long Point Police Department has a chief, sergeant and patrol officer.

Groton Long Point Association President John Tuohy said there is a vacancy at the patrol officer position. Additionally, he said the budget funds a fluctuating number of part-time officers who fill in for shifts when the need arises.

Tuohy said the study was not budget-driven, but instead designed to look at efficiencies and "where we can do things better."

"Everybody's open to what makes sense," Tuohy said of the study.

He does contend that the town's contribution to the department is less than what it would cost for the town to take over patrols in the borough.

The town contributed $200,500 for the Groton Long Point Police Department last year and $2.25 million for city police. The town budgeted $6.6 million to fund the town department this year.

Oefinger said he expects there will be meetings with officials from all three entities to discuss the results in the coming weeks.

Town Council member Harry Watson said the town has long sought statistical data and a basis that would allow comparison of the departments in an "apples to apples" format.

"Are all of our residents getting the same police coverage?" Watson said. "We also want to be able to make informed decisions come budget time."

g.smith@theday.com

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