The New Haven Police Department is not exempt from the city’s budget woes.
According to city officials, shortfalls in the city’s budget have resulted in the elimination of two unnamed administrative positions and the curtailing of police overtime at the NHPD. Moreover, vacant positions at the department remain unfilled. And although the city says the cutbacks will not affect public safety, the police union is highly skeptical.
The most prominent move the NHPD has made to cut costs is a reduction in overtime budgets for police work. NHPD Chief James Lewis said the department spent $5.8 million in overtime last year.
But now the department is trying to cut that number in half. This year, just $2.7 million is budgeted for overtime.
So far, the department has been successful in cutting back, Lewis said. The department used to spend $165,000 per week on overtime, he said. In the past few weeks, Lewis said, that amount has been cut by over $100,000 per week in overtime.
This will force NHPD officers to do more with less. For instance, fewer officers will be available for community meetings and public events, such as for summer concerts on the New Haven Green. Moreover, two NHPD administrative positions have been cut, though Lewis and New Haven’s Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 declined to state what those positions were.
Smuts maintained that these will not adversely affect public safety.
But, Lou Cavaliere Sr., the president of Local 530, the city’s police union, said these cuts will jeopardize security, especially since the department is already short 100 officers of its fully-staffed quota of 496.
“It’s going to affect the neighborhoods and response times,” Cavalier said.
And the department is likely to stay short-staffed even longer as a result of the cuts.
The current group of officers in the police academy is scheduled to graduate in December, but the next police academy, which will add 45 people to the force, is being delayed. Although the next academy was supposed to start in April, an effort to save the city $400,000 has pushed it back to July, Lewis said.
This delay concerns Cavaliere.
“Public safety cannot equate with dollars and cents,” he said. “If the aldermen are more concerned about balancing the budget than public safety, then sure, cutting the police budget is the right thing.”
But Administrative Officer Smuts said the public has nothing to worry about.
“We’re absolutely not going to put public safety at risk,” he said.
Richard Epstein, chairman of the New Haven Board of Police Commissioners, said that while less money means the department will have fewer resources, the department is going to use the resources it has more efficiently.
“We are doing the best we can to minimize the impact on public safety by using our resources as judiciously as we can,” he said.
Lewis admitted citizens will see some changes as a result of the cuts in overtime. While in the past Lewis would have acquiesced to requests from business owners asking for beat cops to patrol in front of their stores, he now needs to decline because the resources are needed elsewhere.
Still, he told the News he understood the budget cuts were necessary in the current economic climate.
“Clearly the mayor believes public safety is a top priority, as is education, but they’re also the biggest pieces of the budget,” Lewis said. He added, “It’s very, very difficult to cut $6 million even from the big city budget if you completely leave untouched the two biggest players, which is public safety and education.”
Last November, the Police Executive Research Forum — commonly referred to as PERF — released a report full of recommendations for reform at the NHPD. PERF was contracted by the city after a corruption scandal in the department’s narcotics enforcement unit led to the arrests of three officers.
Smuts said the budget cuts will not affect the implementation of the report’s recommendations. All the new positions the report recommended the department create — including two additional assistant chiefs — have been filled, Smuts said. In addition, the vacant lieutenant, sergeant, and captain positions that the report recommended be filled have been, he said.
Despite the budget cuts, Epstein said he does not anticipate any large-scale layoffs as a result. Smuts agreed.
“Any decisions we make regarding the police department won’t have a significant effect on the number of officers in the department,” he said.
Martine Powers contributed reporting.