Editor's Note: Last week, in the first of a two-part series, Police Chief Brent Larrabee spoke about progress the Police Department has made over the past two years since four of its officers were charged with racial profiling. Today, Larrabee talks about the cost of that progress-in both human and monetary terms.
Most of the current cops on the under-staffed East Haven Police Department are raking in more money than they ever dreamed of due to overtime, but the toll it's taking on those same cops isn't worth it, according to their supervisors.
The two reasons for the overtime expense, which Police Chief Brent Larrabee said in a recent interview "will probably be over
$1 million this year," are manpower shortages and dealing with the binding agreement the town reached with the U.S. Department of Justice to re-train officers and ensure bias-free policing.
An average shift for an East Haven police officer these days, according to Lieutenant Ed Lennon, is to work his or her beat for eight hours, then go to several hours of a Department of Justice training course, "go home for a few hours of sleep, and then get back on the job.
"The men and women are working their butts off," said Lennon, the officer who is the department's liaison with federal officials to ensure training is being implemented.
Larrabee added, "We realize that East Haven is not a wealthy community and we figure out every way we can to cut costs. But the math, because of all the training and us being short-staffed, just doesn't add up."
Larrabee said he is working hard to fill the vacancies in the department, but a combination of factors make it difficult.
"New officers have to go through extensive training before they are put on the street," said Larrabee. "Sometimes by the time we get a new cop actually out on the beat, somebody else has already left the department, creating another opening."
The chief and Lennon both said they have "lots of sleepless nights" trying to figure out how to have proper police coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Larrabee said East Haven residents shouldn't worry about whether the town is getting proper police coverage, despite the manpower shortages.
"There hasn't been any big spikes in crime or anything like that," the chief said.
Former sergeant John Miller was sentenced last week to four months in prison. Former police officers David Cari, Dennis Spaulding, and Jason Zullo have been tried, convicted, and sentenced in the past few months.
The arrests of the cops led to negotiations with the Department of Justice about how the Police Department could improve. The result was the signing of a $2.5 million compliance agreement, wherein federal officials agreed to halt litigation in exchange for East Haven's completing a laundry list of policy changes.
Recently, the department hit a federal deadline to complete 24 guidelines, items ranging from completing bias-free police training to establishing a plan that addresses how to communicate with the town's non-English speaking population.
But hitting that deadline, which Larrabee said "is pretty amazing in and of itself," came with a price.
"If you ask a lot of the cops if they'd rather have a night or weekend or holiday off instead of the extra money," the chief said, "each and every one of them would pick the day off."