New limits on overtime spending may force New Haven Police Department officers to do more with less.

Because of the unexpectedly high expenses associated with law enforcement due to an increased number of future officers in training, the NHPD will have to limit funds spent on officers working overtime hours. The cutbacks — an 80-percent reduction in spending over the rest of the calendar year, effective immediately — come at a critical moment in the NHPD’s trajectory, as incoming Chief James Lewis has both promised to increase police presence in New Haven communities and recently revived the department’s dormant narcotics division.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”11923″ ]

Although some NHPD officials and city officials involved with the NHPD, such as Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01, said they feel confident the cutbacks will not have an adverse effect on police coverage of neighborhoods, some, like Police Union President Louis Cavaliere, said they question whether the NHPD will remain unchanged by the cut in overtime hours.

The downsizing was necessary because overtime funding was needed to cover salaries for officers currently in training, Smuts said. Although the NHPD lists its optimal officer capacity to be 496, the department currently has fewer than 400 officers on its payroll.

Last year, Smuts said, the NHPD spent $5.8 million on overtime, though only $2.5 million were set aside for police overtime. This year’s overtime budget has only increased to $2.75 million, and the NHPD has used up more than half of that so far in the fiscal year.

The cuts will be made “judiciously,” Smuts said, and will mostly limit the number of officers provided at community meetings and public events, such as summer concerts on the New Haven Green. He maintained that the units that need the most attention will not be affected by the cutbacks, and the law enforcement presence in New Haven communities will not experience any real changes, he said.

“We won’t make cuts that will impact public safety,” Smuts said. “We’re just going to be smarter about it. We’ll need a solid justification of why someone needs to go on a overtime beat.”

Cavaliere said he is not convinced. If the city government scales back on overtime spending, Cavaliere said, it is inevitable that police will not be able to provide the desirable amount of coverage on city streets. It remains unclear whether these cutbacks will come from sending fewer police to community events or from cutting back in more vital areas of policing, Cavalier said, but wherever the cuts come from, he said he expects members of the community to complain.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “To do the job effectively, you have to hire overtime.”

Alhough overtime spending is now being redirected to pay for officers currently in training, Cavaliere said, these officers will not graduate from their training program until December and will subsequently need to spend several months shadowing officers before they become full-fledged members of the force. Until then, he said, the city will have a dearth of the officers needed to keep residents safe in their community and sure of the police presence in their neighborhoods.

Cavaliere pointed to recent shootings throughout the city as evidence that the NHPD is still understaffed. Now, with the limits on overtime, NHPD officers will be even harder pressed to maintain an active presence in communities that experience high rates of crime, he said.

“Being visible, being in neighborhoods — you can’t have that with less personnel on the streets,” Cavaliere said. “The city is going to have to answer to the community.”

Richard Epstein, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, said Lewis was not particularly happy about having to reduce overtime spending so close to the beginning of his tenure as police chief. But Lewis “is aware of the situation,” Epstein said, and the NHPD is committed to cooperating with the city government in order to ensure that available funds are not overspent.

“Ideally, would we all like more money and more police officers? Yes,” Epstein said. “But all we can do is the best we can do with the resources we have.”