High OT bill leads Conn. agency to re-evaluate hiring
At issue are things including retirement rates, staffing minimums and shortages, and recruitment strategies/sources
By MariAn Gail Brown
The Connecticut Post
TRUMBULL, Conn. — When the Trumbull Police Department puts the four recruits in its hiring pipeline on the street in the months to come, their presence should help the force cut down on overtime. But it won't solve the problem.
The department has a $6.2 million budget for salaries this fiscal year, and $400,000 for overtime. For the fiscal year that ended in June, it had $427,000 to pay overtime. But it exceeded that budget by $222,132, or 48 percent.
The Trumbull Town Council approved last week a supplemental appropriation requested by the department to continue filling its shifts with officers on overtime because there weren't enough officers available to fill its minimum contracted number.
Compounding the staffing shortage costs, the department paid $50,000 in July to two retiring officers — a lieutenant and a sergeant — who hadn't used up their accrued vacation days. A lieutenant on medical leave cost the department $10,000 in overtime to cover his shift, and nine patrol officers cost the town an extra $102,000 in overtime expenses.
Superstorm Sandy alone cost the department $116,000 in overtime, money that the Federal Emergency Management Administration was supposed to cover, but has not fully paid. And two other calamities came back-to-back -- the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown and a storm that dumped upward of 35 inches of snow.
If every one of the 24 police officers who is eligible to retire as of this moment did so this year, the Trumbull Police Department would lose 35 percent of its ranks.
"We are not anticipating any type of mass exodus in the department," Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst said. "Police Chief (Thomas) Kiely does an excellent job of communicating with our officers to determine when they're thinking of retiring.
"One of the reasons I've increased the number of officers to 78 (under this year's budget) is because we want to be proactive in anticipating turnover in the department," Herbst said. "It's important that we start building up our bench."
The Trumbull Police Department has 69 sworn officers in its ranks, and with the new hires will have 73 — although Herbst's 2013-14 budget includes salaries for 78. Nevertheless, with two retirements in July and 10 officers out on extended leave due to illness or injury, there is pressure for the department to hire more.
"Getting new officers on is a concern because we need to maintain a minimum staffing level under our contract," Deputy Police Chief Michael Harry said. "Between the advertising, the background checks, the documents that go back and forth between us and an applicant's employer, and interviews with family and neighbors, it takes close to 18 months from the time we post an opening to get an officer through the Police Academy, then into field training and finally onto the streets."
One way the department might get new officers on the street faster, which Kiely alluded to before the Town Council earlier this month, would be to recruit from surrounding police departments. Herbst and his Democratic challenger, Martha Mark, have supported that approach.
"I understand what the numbers are, and what our options are that have been recommended by Chief Kiely," Mark said. "And I would want everyone to carefully consider their merits. Each has certain advantages."
Meanwhile, Harry said the department is anxious to advertise for about five more patrol positions.
"We're not looking to take an officer from another town," Harry said. "But if they know we're looking and they want to be somewhere else, then of course we would look favorably on their application. They've already been through the police academies. They've been trained. All they would have to do is some field training, getting to know our town."
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