New London to increase police force

New London — Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced on Thursday that the city would resume hiring police officers.

The mayor said the city is in a better financial position to be hiring. The city has the cashflow needed to balance the second budget in a row and has the bonding needed to close out capital accounts, he said.

The city has reserved two spots in the next class of the Connecticut Police Academy and would be looking for two pre-trained, certified officers who can start any time after July 1, which is the start of the next fiscal year, he said. However, the city is also anticipating police officers retiring next year, so it is unclear whether the new police officers would be in addition to the 67 police officers currently on staff.

"I don't know how to classify it," Finizio said. "It is my opinion, my position is that between both (retirements and new hires) we are beginning hiring and hiring will be ongoing, depending on what is available in the budget. … The bottom line is we finally have the financial ability to hire."

When Finizio took office in December 2011, there were about 96 police officers and now there are 67, he said. A study of New London's police department and city found that there should be 81 to 112 officers in the city, he said.

The current budget includes funding for the 67 police officers on staff and a separate line item of contingency funds, $719,000, for new public works and police officers, he said. The contingency funds, possible retirements and an improved financial situation all affected Finizio's decision to authorize the police department to start the hiring process.

Finizio said his proposed budget included 80 police officer positions based on a City Council ordinance that said the minimum level of officers was 80.

City Councilor Erica Richardson said the City Council reduced the number of budgeted police officers because there was no way to "realistically" hire that many so quickly. The officers have to be trained at the Connecticut Police Academy and training new police officers costs additional money, she said. A trainee's salary must be paid while they are in training and new equipment needs to be purchased for the new employee, Finizio said.

On Monday, the City Council passed the second reading of next year's budget, which includes the 67 positions and contingency funds. It must go through a third budget reading by May 30.

"The question has always been whether they have enough money in their budget to start hiring," Richardson said.

There was also concern about whether a new hire would get to keep their job and not be laid off after years of threatened layoffs, she said.

Despite the possibility that the new positions might be filling the positions of officers who are retiring, Richardson said the announcement is a sign that the situation is improving.

"It's really going to be a great step forward to start rebuilding our force," Richardson said.

New London City Councilor Michael Passero said the plan was "overdue," but he questioned how much attrition would take place next year.

New London Police Union President Todd Lynch said there is already someone who submitted a letter of resignation because they are retiring.

"It's the union's stance that every time someone leaves another person should be hired to do that - this is above and beyond what it is for a new officer."

The plan to hire new police officers also includes Finizio seeking an agreement from the police union to ensure that any new hire is required to make a five-year commitment to serving in New London. Many police officers have been trained in New London, which costs taxpayers additional money, only to leave and work at a different police department, several sources said.

New London Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said many police officers left based on the threat of a layoff but Lynch said people are leaving because of poor morale and the lack of "positive leadership at the top."

Another recommendation from Finizio is that a job candidate's ability to speak Spanish be part of the job qualifications.

"Up to 20 percent of our city population speaks Spanish as their primary language, and we need officers who can communicate with them. Last Christmas, we waited hours for a translator to arrive at a homicide investigation because of a lack of Spanish-speaking officers in our department."

He said there are only two New London police officers who speak Spanish.

Lynch said points could be given to someone who is bilingual during the hiring process but that there is already a process in place that has to be followed.

They "can't just make up new processes," he said.

Finizio said after the release came out that the normal process would be followed and that speaking Spanish wasn't going to be a requirement.

Passero said he questioned the announcement because the administration "never showed any inclination to hire police."

The City Council had set aside money this year to hire new police officers but none were hired, he said.

Finizio said there wasn't any money for new police officers this year because the City Council did not budget enough money for the number of police officers on staff.

"They keep saying it because politically it sounds good to say, but it's not true," Finizio said.

He said the police department still has a projected budget deficit of about $185,000 and so there is no money to hire people this fiscal year.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to resume hiring in the police department (next fiscal year)," Finizio said. "It will be a priority for the administration to continue hiring throughout my remaining time in office to begin the process of rebuilding our ranks."

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