New London - A retired police captain urged the City Council Monday night to pass a proposed ordinance that would require the police department to have 80 sworn officers, 15 more than the 65 officers employed today.
"Looming over every officer's head is the threat they will not have a job," said Ken Edwards Jr., who recruited and hired officers when he worked for the New London Police Department before retiring in 2007. "That's still the message out there."
The proposed ordinance would assure new officers who want to come to New London that the city is committed to maintaining its staffing levels, he said.
"Also, it would be security for those thinking about jumping ship," Edwards said, speaking at Monday's City Council meeting.
"If people don't feel safe, they're not going to come to the city," said resident Dennis Downing, who also endorsed the proposal. "We need more police officers on the street."
The council referred the ordinance, which was proposed by Councilor Michael Passero, to two committees for further review.
Council President Wade Hyslop said Monday he agrees there should be an ordinance, but he wants to know how Passero came up with the staffing level of 80.
The department has shrunk by about 30 percent since 2011, which is mostly attributed to low morale and the threat of layoffs during the past two years.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio told the council Monday that the police administration wants to come before the council to discuss the ordinance.
"I certainly believe 80 is a minimal level," said the mayor, who added that job security has been an issue for many officers. "We we do need to begin rehiring as soon as possible."
He said he expects no more layoffs for the current fiscal year.
The council set aside $500,000 in the 2013-14 budget to pay for six months of salary for six new police officers for the second half of the year, but no officers have yet been hired.
"I'm very hopeful when we get budget projections through the end of year, we will start hiring," he said.
In 2007, the police department had 90 sworn officers and 17 other personnel, according to a study commissioned by then City Manager Martin Berliner. "The Limited Assessment of New London, CT Police Department" recommended the department have between 81 and 118 patrol officers, in addition to other sworn officers such as the chief. The number of officers was based on the number of requests for assistance, the report said.
Today, according to Deputy Chief Peter Reichard, the department has 66 sworn officers.
The department employed 99 officers in 2011 and 97 in 2012, according to the city's finance department. City records show 80 officers on the payroll when the 2013-14 budget was being prepared. The police union claims 21 officers hired by Chief Margaret Ackley, who took over as chief in 2009, have left for other departments, while another 13 have retired.
In early 2013, at least 10 officers left the department, including nine who joined other law enforcement agencies.
In addition to a review by the Public Safety Committee, the proposal was also referred Monday to the Administration Committee. Councilor Michael Tranchida, chairman of administration, asked for a joint meeting, but Councilor Erica Richardson, the head of public safety, declined.