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New London - The City Council's Public Safety Committee is recommending the mayor support the police department's K-9 unit and maintain at least four police dogs.
"This resolution is nonbinding, but it is the council's will and desire to keep the K-9 unit,'' said Councilor Adam Sprecace, following a two-hour meeting Tuesday where several dozen people filled City Hall and another dozen or so spoke passionately in support of the working police dogs in the department.
The committee voted 3-0 to pass a resolution that "encourages the Administrations of the City and the Police Department to continue the proud tradition of the Police Canine Program in the City."
The full council will consider the measure on Monday. If the mayor does not heed the council's advice, it could pass an ordinance, which would require the city to have a K-9 unit.
Following a decision last week by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to retire one of the city's police dogs and donate another to a different police department - leaving only one active police dog - members of the department and retired officers asked the council for help in saving the program.
But during the meeting, they also described a police department that is dysfunctional and demoralized, with trained officers leaving for other jobs and morale at an all-time low.
"The mayor and the police chief have lost their minds,'' said David Hayes, a city resident who routinely attends council meetings. The mayor has a vendetta against the police union president, who handles the only dog left in the department, he said, and the chief is less than competent.
"It's bad for all of us. You have to turn this around. It cannot go on,'' Hayes said.
Union President Todd Lynch said 11 officers will leave the department by the end of June. The city, he estimated, paid about $1.1 million to train the officers. He said since 2009, when Chief Margaret Ackley took over the department, 40 officers have left the force.
The Day has a pending request for information on historical turnover rates in the department.
"Our department, your department is being destroyed," Lynch said. "The morale within the agency is at an all-time low. When you're a police officer and you fear being in the police station more than you do policing the streets, there is a significant problem."
Eric Brown, a union attorney involved in contract negotiations with the city, said New London has a "demoralized and beaten-down police force.
"It's beaten-down and demoralized because there is uncertainty on top and mistrust on top,'' he said. "Something has got to be done about it."
Several people, including councilor John Maynard, chairman of the committee, called for the chief to step down.
"If it's time to retire anyone, then maybe what we should be looking at is retiring the police chief and not the K-9 unit," said Kathleen Mitchell, a New London resident.
Among those who spoke in favor of the police dog program and of improving morale were Kenneth Edwards, a retired New London captain, and William Nott, who retired in 2007 from New London as a sergeant. Nott started the K-9 unit in the early 1980s.
"This is probably the worst shape I've ever seen the New London Police Department in, and I've worked for five police chiefs," Detective Frank Jarvis, a 34-year veteran of the department and its most senior member.
Others who attended the meeting but did not speak included former City Councilor Michael Buscetto III, who has long supported the K-9 program, and retired Deputy Police Chief Marshall "Chip" Segar.
City Councilor Anthony Nolan, who is a police officer, said because of the dysfunction in the department, he "feels more protected in the community that I do at the station."
"Obviously, there's something wrong. Obviously, there are problems,'' Nolan said. "There are some things going on. There are problems that may take outside help to fix."
Neither the chief nor the mayor attended the meeting.
Finizio said in a statement that he would not be attending because of police contract negotiations.
"We will not undermine the collective bargaining process and conduct city negotiations in a politicized public forum,'' he said.
Lynch said having no one show up at the meeting is part of the problem.
"They're afraid to hear from the public,'' he said. "For me, it's disgusting no one came."
Staff writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.