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Montville - Since June, one Montville Police Department officer has left, three more are on their way out the door, and the status of a fifth officer is up in the air, according to Lt. Leonard Bunnell.
Patrol Officer Matthew Orr left the department in June and on July 1 started as a patrol officer in Reading, Mass., the Reading police department confirmed Thursday. On the heels of his departure, patrol officers Robert Bedard and Andrew Nemeth and Sgt. Ernest Greenwood all have indicated plans to leave, according to Bunnell. Bunnell said that the department is unsure what the outcome will be with a workers' compensation situation with an officer whom he would not name.
Orr said he took the job in Reading because it allowed him and his wife to move closer to her family and because the department provided him with better pay and more opportunity to rise in rank. He said the department had more than 40 officers, making it roughly double the size of Montville's department.
"It was the right move for me and my wife. It has nothing to do with what's going on (in Montville,)" he said. He said he has a lot of friends in Montville's police department.
The Reading department is an independent police department. Montville police, in contrast, answer to a state police resident trooper.
Bunnell said that the other officers are moving on for various reasons. He said Bedard was moving to South Carolina for family reasons, Nemeth was planning to pursue a higher education degree outside of law enforcement, and Greenwood planned to join Mohegan Tribal Police as a patrol officer. He said the Mohegan police offered a more competitive pay scale than Montville.
Bunnell blamed the change in command on the fact that the department answers to state police rather than being independent, and said that staff make less money at the department than in other departments throughout the state.
"Officers are basically constables," he said. "Over the years, the state has ended loopholes … . It still hasn't changed that we have a resident trooper."
He said that the department has gone through 30 troopers in 37 years, which he said creates an unstable atmosphere. In June, state police transferred Sgt. Marty Martinez from his position as Montville's resident trooper to a patrol sergeant position in Colchester. Sgt. James Smith is now the town's resident trooper.
The town recently conducted a study on why officers were leaving, and the Town Council is in the process of forming a committee to analyze results of the study, according to Bunnell.
Mayor Ronald McDaniel said the loss of three officers in close succession "just seemed to happen that way." The town is "in the hiring process" and has not yet determined who will replace the officers, he said.
Montville Public Safety Commission member James Moran said that losing numerous officers at once was not abnormal in the region.
"It's not unusual. Have you been watching what's going on with the New London Police Department? They've been leaving in droves," he said.
He went on to say that he knew of no issues at the Montville department that would drive officers to leave.
"They have it the best they've ever had it right now," he said, commenting that officers were working in a new police station and that the department recently acquired three new police cruisers. Moran noted that he mostly deals with upper management in the department and not with the patrol officers.