Old Lyme police union raises concerns over potential East Lyme merger

Old Lyme — The Old Lyme Police Department's union is raising concerns over a potential consolidation with the East Lyme Police Department and said police officers should be part of the conversation over the town's policing needs.

“The Old Lyme Police AFSCME Local 2693 are in 100 percent agreement that the consolidation is not in the best interest of the townspeople and the police officers,” said police Cpl. Bill Zipadelli, president of local 2693, which comprises the department's six full-time police officers. “We plan to share our concerns with the first selectman and the Board of Selectmen. It’s important for the voice of police officers to be heard and involved in any discussions regarding our future.”

East Lyme and Old Lyme officials announced last summer the beginning of preliminary discussions on a proposal to create one police department for the two towns. East Lyme established an independent police force on July 1, while Old Lyme is under the state police program with a resident state trooper, six full-time officers and one part-time officer.

The East Lyme and Old Lyme first selectmen said they wanted to explore if one police department for two towns could provide better policing and if there would be efficiencies and savings. With Old Lyme's busy beach area, Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said during the July announcement that a combined police department with East Lyme could offer "24/7" police coverage.

East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson said potential benefits to East Lyme include being able to afford a second-in-command — a police captain — and added police protection during the summer months, when East Lyme's population doubles.

Larry Dorman, public affairs officer for Council 4 AFSCME, said the union doesn't believe it's in Old Lyme's best interest to lose the current model of a small but dedicated police force that protects and serves the town.

"There are statutory concerns, collective bargaining concerns and public safety concerns for the townspeople in Old Lyme," Dorman said. "It just makes sense that these dedicated police officers are part of any due diligence regarding outsourcing."

The Old Lyme police union's concerns over the potential consolidation include job security, uncertainty over losing benefits and seniority, differences in scheduling between the two departments, the need for more discussion with police officers and townspeople, and whether "outsourcing" makes sense for the town.

Reemsnyder said she had a discussion with the police this summer and they shared their concerns. She told the officers she would be advocating on their behalf to ensure their jobs are protected. But she said the town hasn't reached that point in the discussion yet.

Reemsnyder said she won't know whether or not the potential consolidation is better for residents of Old Lyme until the town studies it.

The Old Lyme Board of Selectmen is planning on forming a committee to study the town's police services and whether or not a potential consolidation makes sense. Reemsnyder said the town is considering using a consultant and will be developing a charge for the committee. She said the town wants to make sure that it considers everything, whether it stays with the current model or makes a change, and is not rushing into a decision.

"I think it's a discussion we have a right and an obligation to have for the people of Old Lyme," she said. Any decision will require public comment and a vote, she has said.

Union members said they want a seat on the committee the Board of Selectmen is forming, but none of them is a town resident.

Reemsnyder said the police officers had expressed that concern to her. She said the discussion hasn't gone any further, because no one has come forward to say they would like to be the person to serve.

The union's position is that if the town feels the police department needs more resources, there are smarter alternatives, Zipadelli said. For example, the town could hire one or two additional full-time police officers and more part-time officers.

Reemsnyder said she appreciates and respects the officers' concerns, and they are welcome to provide their ideas.

"I am open to hearing anything. In fact, I like when people think of new ideas and try to address some of the challenges," she said. "We'll be looking at all alternatives."

The union also is concerned that under a potential merger, their jobs in the new consolidated police department would be considered a "lateral transfer" and the officers would have to re-certify under the requirements established by the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, a time-consuming and costly process, Dorman said.

Scott DeVico, public information officer for the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said by email that Police Officer Standards and Training staff believes the council would say that if two municipal police departments merged into one, the officers still would be POSTC certified officers, only with a new name for the agency, so other than clerical, no change in their status would be anticipated.

Dorman said the officers have not been formally informed of this.

"If the new agency decided to retain them as employees, that would most likely be satisfactory to the council," DeVico said. Seniority and benefits are local issues that would have to be determined between the officers and the agency or municipality, he added. 

Reemsnyder said she believes that, under state statute, the towns will be able to consolidate their police departments, but the committee will be reviewing all requirements and conferring with an attorney. 

If the towns move forward with the consolidation, Nickerson, who is a member of East Lyme's Police Commission, said any concerns, including about personnel and benefits, would be addressed later, when a plan is developed in detail.

Once the Old Lyme committee has finished its work, the East Lyme Police Commission has discussed then forming its own sub-committee to review the facts and make sure East Lyme's interests would be served, Nickerson said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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