The Police Department has lost 30 sworn officers so far this year to retirement and better paying job opportunities in Connecticut communities, dwindling law enforcement strength to under 400 for the first time in two decades with the specter of losing dozens more to retirement come January 2015.
Police spokesman Bill Kaempffer confirmed Thursday that the number of sworn city officers is down to 380, with a recruitment class of 17 coming on line later this year. Police overtime that had been reeled in by Assistant Chief James Nardozzi has now kicked in to address the attrition, according to police sources.
“We’re not going to keep the city understaffed because of the retirements,” says Kaempffer. “Public safety is the foremost priority.”
What’s going on? The city is challenged to compete with the pay scale and benefits offered by surrounding communities. Veteran members of the department have left–many cashing in retirement pay–for higher paying communities and private sector security positions. Some within the department also say morale issues have forged departures. In recent years collective bargaining agreements have required city police officers to contribute growing shares to medical benefits. Some area communities are offering lateral movement hires, meaning city officers can segue right into the respective systems because they are certified in law enforcement. The towns save money on training of recruits.
The challenge for the city is keeping pace with additional losses that could occur come 2015.
“Officers are leaving for other departments for more than $10,000 in salary without the stress of a city job,” says one veteran member of the department.
In the coming weeks the city is expected to lose four more veteran officers earning retirement pay averaging close to $100,000 grandfathered into the city’s Pension A retirement benefits of 20 years and out dating back 40 years. The city recently opted into a state pension program that allows two percent retirement benefits per years of service calculating the best three earning years including overtime pay. So you serve 40 years, you receive 80 percent of the best three years. The earning power of veteran department members in recent years including overtime has eclipse $100,000.
Several years ago police overtime costs had busted the law enforcement budget. Assistant Chief Nardozzi was brought in with a specific task to tame overtime spending. He earned the enmity of officers who had no problem working a couple of shifts per day. But now the dwindling staffing level is forcing the department to keep pace with necessary patrol coverage through overtime.
The city has entered the dog days of summer when violent crime is generally on the rise. The good news is the city has not experienced the kind of violent crime in recent years that had marred from the mid 1980s into the early 1990s when a murder a week, as a result of the crack cocaine epidemic and drug gang wars, was the norm in comparison to a murder or two per month in the past decade.
Back in the mid 1980s the city had experienced a shortfall in police staffing levels that extended into the early 1990s. Joe Ganim, who was elected mayor in 1991, began the process to hire additional police that eventually led to staffing levels reaching authorized strength of close to 450.