Police departments formalize task force with new contract

The Regional Community Enhancement Task Force, formed in early 2016 in response to a rash of local overdoses, became more formal last month, as member departments signed on to a contract created with input from towns' police and attorneys.

According to Groton Town police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Jr., the contract represents an interlocal agreement, the conditions of which are outlined under state statutes in Sections 7-339a – 7-339l. Such agreements already exist around the state, he said.

In this case, a main goal was to allow officers operating on the force to charge people with misdemeanors and infractions in municipalities other than the officers' own. As it stands, officers can charge people only with felonies in towns that aren’t theirs.

Ironing out jurisdictional issues such as those should make the force’s actions stronger in court, Fusaro explained.

The importance of that can’t be overstated, as members of the force since February of last year have been investigating and making arrests in many types of cases, including some that have been transferred to federal agencies.

Having a contract also can help participating departments nail down what to do when policies differ from town to town, Ledyard police Chief John Rich said.

“If one of my officers was to use physical force on an arrestee in another community, which policy prevails?” Rich asked rhetorically. “Those are some of the reasons we decided to formalize.”

For Ledyard, a relatively new and small department, being a member of the regional task force has paid dividends.

It’s a manpower multiplier when the town needs to carry out a search warrant and wants extra bodies on hand. It’s a teacher when Ledyard police seek advice on best practices for programs like asset forfeiture — something they didn’t run under the resident state trooper program. It’s a networking medium for officers who otherwise might not work much with other town police. And it helps members get face time with agencies from probation and parole to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and FBI.

“I think it benefits all of us,” Rich said. “I think all of the chiefs feel the same way.”

Even though the regional task force was formed in response to overdoses, Fusaro said, it never was intended to focus solely on narcotics. Each community is free to target the issues affecting it most.

In Groton, for example, operations have homed in on prostitution and human trafficking. Other communities have worked to solve rashes of burglaries from homes and cars.

Such issues, Fusaro noted, often still find their roots in drug addiction.

The key, Fusaro said, is that information sharing among departments is notably better now than it was before the task force was created. On more than one occasion, police in one town, recognizing a modus operandi in another, have helped police in the latter quickly develop a suspect.

“We’re all dealing with the stresses of reduced funding and uncertain budgetary times,” Fusaro said. “I think all of us are trying to focus our efforts where we can get the most benefit out of our officers and this collaboration.”

Fusaro said the day-to-day function of the force varies. Some days, only a couple of officers devote time to task force-related activities. Other days, upwards of 10 will converge on a particular town.

Right now, departments largely provide officers to the force only when they reasonably can shift them away from other assignments. Because of that, it hasn’t spawned much in the way of excess costs.

In addition to Groton Town and Ledyard, officers from Groton City, Stonington and Waterford regularly staff the force. New London also has joined.

That should change in the near future, as the East Lyme Police Commission in July unanimously voted to allow the department to sign on.

East Lyme Chief Michael Finkelstein on Thursday said his department is looking forward to becoming involved.

“Regional cooperation is really a goal that we have in law enforcement,” he said. “Crime does not have boundaries.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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