New London - The City Council on Monday will review a proposal to adopt a minimum police staffing level to maintain a "viable police force" in the city.
Councilor Michael Passero is proposing an ordinance that would require the city to employ at least 80 sworn police officers and patrolmen. The New London Police Department currently has about 65 sworn officers, according to the department.
Passero said on Friday that he was concerned that the police staffing level has been dropping over the last several years, particularly as officers leave to join departments in surrounding towns and cities. In 2010, the city's police force reached close to 95 officers before dropping to 70 in July 2013.
Public safety is the number one matter residents look to their government to provide, Passero said, and while the city is doing a "good job" with the resources it has, he said the current staffing level is not sustainable.
The current size of the department requires officers to work double shifts and put in overtime, according to Passero. He said the city's charter authorizes the council to establish minimum police staffing levels.
"The City Council is the policy-making body," he said. "It's time for the City Council to decide this is the appropriate level of staffing to maintain an adequate police force."
He said while he would normally leave such matters to the city administration, he has so far not seen action on its part.
The council set aside $500,000 in the 2013-14 budget to pay for six months of salary for six new police officers in the second half of the year, The Day has reported. Finizio had said it would likely be January before his office would have enough information to make sure the budget would allow for the hiring and purchase of new equipment.
"I support having at least 80 officers in the New London Police Department," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said in a statement Friday. "The brave men and women of the NLPD have been doing an amazing job with limited resources, poorly conditioned vehicles and equipment, and low staffing levels. This simply can not continue. While 80 officers may not be an optimal staffing level, I do believe that at least that many officers are needed for the department to function at what I would consider acceptable levels.
"I plan to begin the hiring process as soon as the City Administration, working with the City Council, can determine that we can begin hiring while still balancing the 2013-2014 municipal budget," Finizio added.
"I look forward to working with the Council to accomplish what Council President Hyslop set as his top priority for this Council term; hiring more officers in our police department."
Council President the Rev. Wade A. Hyslop Jr. said Friday that Passero is within his right to request the ordinance, and there may be other councilors who will agree with him.
"I personally will not necessarily agree with the number," Hyslop said. "I will be asking how he came up with that number."
The council may also vote Monday on a resolution to have the city administration withdraw its appeal of an arbitration award regarding the firing of former Officer Thomas Northup. The city is opposing the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration's order to rehire Northup, who was fired for use of excessive and unreasonable force when he shot and wounded the unarmed driver of a stolen ice truck in 2011.
"The Administration will continue to support the appeal in the Northup case to the fullest extent of the law," Finizio said in a statement. "I believe it is critical to set the public policy, and legal precedent, not only for the City of New London but also for the State of Connecticut, that whether or not a police officer should be indicted, or found liable, for a police shooting; that officer should be able to be terminated from employment if it is determined that they violated the City's patrol policies on the use of deadly force."
Passero said he thought the city should respect the board's decision and did not have grounds to challenge the ruling.
"I think we have to respect the process," he said.
The Council will meet in closed session Monday with the mayor and legal director's office to discuss the issue.