Although the town’s proposed budget for 2013-14 includes a request for one additional police officer, the police department wants another.
At the finance board’s review of the town budget on Monday, March 11, Weston Police Chief John Troxell and Sergeant Mike Ferullo presented their case for an 11th officer.
The department currently has nine patrol officers, three sergeants, one detective, and one chief. The first selectmen’s proposed budget seeks a 10th patrol officer.
Chief Troxell said the 10th officer would be used for general patrol, be he also wants an 11th officer to patrol School Road during school hours.
He told the board that after the tragedy in Newtown, Weston Superintendent Colleen Palmer requested full-time police coverage of School Road, which houses all the town’s schools. In order to provide that coverage, the chief said an officer would be dedicated to School Road.
At the beginning of the meeting, several finance board members said they were mindful of the town’s tax rate and mill rate, and were looking for budget cuts.
Noting the state of the real estate market, and Weston’s desire to attract more people, Chairman Jerry Sargent said, “Taxes play a large role in a buyer’s market,” said.
Sgt. Ferullo said he had done research that indicated that the cost of hiring an 11th officer would be “about a wash” because the department’s overtime costs could be significantly reduced.
The cost for a new officer is estimated at $69,500 a year plus $33,500 in benefit costs. Equipment, training, and new police vehicle would also be needed for a new officer.
Sgt. Ferullo said the addition of a 10th officer would not significantly reduce overtime costs, but an 11th officer would.
In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the department spent $346,218 in overtime costs, which can equate to an officer’s salary at time and a half or more depending on the circumstances.
With two more officers on the patrol schedule, Sgt. Ferullo said a lot of overtime situations could be alleviated because an officer could be used at “straight time” instead of overtime.
“In years past, we always assumed it would be cheaper to pay overtime than for the cost of a new officer, but that isn’t the case. Although there will still be overtime costs, those costs will be much less than they are now,” Chief Troxell said.
Sgt. Ferullo reviewed three months of police patrol, for the months of June, July, and August 2011. He said if there were 11 officers, most of the gaps in the schedule, filled then on an overtime basis, could have been filled with an officer at straight time.
Another cost saving, is that with a 10th and 11th officer, investigations which are currently done in overtime, could be done on straight time, too.
He offered further evidence to support hiring more officers, and submitted a demographic chart which shows that Weston has a lower number of sworn officers per thousand residents than neighboring Easton or Redding.
According to a Bureau of Justice study of communities with populations between 10,000 and 24,999, Weston had 1.37 officers per thousand residents, compared to 1.87 for Easton, and 1.85 for Redding.
Another issue with the current staffing level, he said, is officer fatigue. Officers are often called on to work back-to-back eight-hour shifts (16 hours in a row), which is detrimental to their health, he said. He presented a sleep deprivation study which found that fatigue in public safety officers can result in an increase in work-related accidents.
He said an 11th officer would allow the department to run more efficiently.
A member of the audience, Dawn Watson of Walnut Lane, said she supports the request for additional officers. “Show our children how we handle their safety,” she said.
There was also a request in the police department’s original budget for a third officer, a School Resource Officer (SRO) — to be funded on a contingency basis — pending a decision by the school board which is currently reviewing the matter.
The selectmen did not include an SRO position in the 2013-14 budget. However, at the beginning of the discussion, First Selectman Gayle Weinstein told the finance board if the school board decides it wants a resource officer, it is something that could be considered in a supplemental appropriation.