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Petition submitted to force referendum on New London police staffing

New London — Petitioners say they have collected enough signatures to force a referendum on whether or not the city should mandate the staffing level at the police department.

The petition seeks to overturn, or force the council to reconsider, a March 1 vote that repealed a 2014 ordinance that mandates 80 officers. The vote was 6-1.

The department has never reached that level of staffing, and the council has argued the figure was arbitrary and based on an outdated study of city needs. Advocates for the petition claim the repeal was a move designed to remove an obstacle for those who would like to "defund" the police department.

City Clerk Jonathan Ayala confirmed he received a stack of signatures on Monday but said it will take time to verify whether they contain the required 379 signatures of registered voters needed to force reconsideration or a referendum. He has 10 days to make that determination.

If the petition is certified, it will immediately go to the City Council for consideration. By City Charter, the council can vote to repeal its vote or move the question to the ballot for the next municipal election. The council can also call for a “special election,” a referendum prior to November’s election.

The charter states that 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last municipal election, which in this case was 3,791 voters, is required to force the referendum.

Kat Goulart, who helped spearhead the petition drive, said there are well over 400 signatures on the petition and expected the issue will be the subject of a citywide vote in November.

“These are all people who put our city council members in office,” Goulart said of the people who signed. “That bears some weight.”

The council, in voting to repeal the ordinance, acted on a petition submitted by several city activist groups. Those groups have additionally called for the council to consider shifting money from the police budget to other areas, such as social services or education.

City councilors, during and after their vote, have reiterated the fact that the repeal does not directly translate to a drop in police funding but allows them more flexibility in considering the needs of all city departments.

Goulart and others said the repeal was just a first move.

“The groups that led the charge and signed a letter requesting the repeal have been vocal about their efforts to defund the police department,” Goulart said. “This ordinance was the barrier. We’re not stupid. These two things are linked.”

No other city department has a staffing level mandated by ordinance, though the city’s fire department by contract maintains 16 employees per shift.

The police department is not expected to request additional staffing in its proposed budget. The number of officers now stands at 73.

Goulart, who is the chairwoman of the New London Republican Town Committee, said the petition was a bipartisan effort as evidenced by the broad swath of people who signed.

Ayala said if he declares the petition to be “insufficient,” circulators have 10 days to resubmit a petition.  

g.smith@theday.com

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