GREENWICH, Conn. – The Greenwich Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following the guidance from both the first selectman, who serves as the police commissioner, and the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the police administration prepared a budget that conformed to a formula that will keep next year's budget under a 2 percent increase.
This budget proposal was presented to the BET Budget Committee, and the members voted to recommend to the full BET a reduction in the table of organization of the Police Department of 10 sworn police officers. They also moved to remove $600,000 from the police budget that would have funded these positions.
With all due respect to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, as your chief of police I disagree with this proposed action. It is my hope that these necessary police positions do not get removed from the department's table of organization. It is truly my fear that once these positions are removed, they will never be returned, and that the level of police service will be unavoidably reduced.
It is important to note that following our initial budget proposal, the Board of Estimate and Taxation asked the police administration to provide it with staffing models reflecting a 5 percent and 10 percent reduction in our budget for the next year. It is easy to figure out that either of these scenarios would cause a significant reduction in officers and, therefore, service, as payroll makes up nearly 95 percent of the Police Department's budget.
The Police Department loses approximately seven members of our force annually to retirements or resignations, and this historically has kept our numbers below full strength. An added challenge is that it takes quite a while to hire and then train officers fully so that they can perform the duties of a police officer. From the date the town hires an officer until he or she is ready to go out and work in patrol takes more than nine months. Each police recruit is required by state statute to attend a six-month police academy, and is then also required to train for 12 weeks under the supervision of a senior officer until the recruit is assigned to regular police duties.
Another external challenge to the hiring of police recruits is that the state has reduced the number of previously offered recruit classes. Many police departments are competing for an extremely limited number of seats in each of the remaining classes at the Connecticut Police Academy. The Greenwich Police Department has collaborated with other departments to assist them with their regional academies, and this has allowed us to send recruits to their programs. We are currently seeking accreditation to conduct a police academy here in Greenwich in the public safety complex. In the beginning of October 2012, we had four officers graduate from the Milford Regional Police Academy. These four officers finally completed their training and are now part of the patrol staff.
The police administration has recognized that in order to provide full service to the residents of the town we needed to change our efforts and achieve full strength. We recently completed our first-ever lateral transfer exam in an effort to recruit officers who already are state-certified. We expect to hire one officer next month under this new program. We currently have 68 highly qualified candidates being screened for the next steps in the hiring process. These police candidates have already completed a written exam and a physical agility test. The top 10 candidates are currently having their background checks completed in advance of additional testing and interviews. In the past year we have hired over one dozen officers, which is a testimony to the excellent efforts of the town's Human Resources Department and the Police Department's selection process. In fact, three of the last five Police Academy classes have had a Greenwich police recruit graduate No. 1 in their class.
A serious concern for us is that if the BET cuts these positions, press coverage will have a negative effect on our ability to recruit the best and brightest of officers for our department. It is also important to note that 44 of the current Greenwich Police Department officers, which is 30 percent of our force, have reached eligibility for retirement. While we hope that these well-trained and most experienced officers continue to serve, we must continue to prepare to bring in new recruits.
Based on nationwide crime data research, the Town of Greenwich was recently recognized as the third-safest city in America by Neighborhood Scout. I believe that this recognition is due in most part to the fact that we have a well-staffed and adequately-funded police force. I hope that we can continue to positively contribute to the quality of life here in Greenwich.
What we propose is that the BET leave the 10 positions in the table of 0rganization, restore the funds and work with the Police Department to fund at least six additional police officer positions so that we are able to hire in advance of openings and have these new recruits on board when space becomes available at the academy.
The police administration will continue to be good stewards of the resources provided to us to deliver the best possible police protection to the citizens of Greenwich.
James J. Heavey, chief of police