As the Elm City struggles to staff its police department and control costs, the administration of Mayor Toni Harp is looking for alternative ways to balance spending related to overtime expenditures.
For years, Harp has considered the lateral hiring of police officers who have recently retired from different towns’ police departments. Now, she and New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 have been looking to make these types of hires a reality.
If instituted in New Haven, the lateral hiring of already trained officers from different towns would bring an expediency to the process of filling vacant spots in the New Haven Police Department — which has struggled to retain officers and operates far over budget. Under current policy, officer recruits must enroll in the police academy for six months, and undergo field training upon graduating from the academy.
“There is an ongoing challenge to retain New Haven police officers because very often after the extensive training [in the police academy], other departments will offer higher salaries to lure away New Haven police officers,” said mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
Currently, the New Haven Police Department has over 100 vacancies in its police department. The reasoning behind the initiative to hire applicants laterally is that local, lateral hires do not have to go through the extensive training that new officers do, saving the city time and money.
The lateral hiring would shorten the training process by many months, Grotheer told the News, and eliminate many of the costs associated with overtime when the department is short-handed.
New Haven Police Department Media Liaison David Hartman told the News that applicants with active Connecticut police certifications would not have to attend the police academy, eliminating both the time delay and financial costs of completely new officers joining the ranks. Training new officers costs the city around $65,000 per officer, according to Grotheer.
These new already experienced hires would be under a new “certified police officer” category, according to the New Haven Independent.
Beyond immediate issues with coverage, the department’s staffing issues have resulted in serious economic pressures on the Harp administration and its budget.
The financial burden caused by the New Haven Police Department’s vacancies has emerged as a crux in New Haven’s political debates. Over the late spring, as the city negotiated its budget for the fiscal year — which began July 1 — New Haven’s leaders looked at ways to rein in spending given the city’s debt and low revenue, which was worsened by a decrease in state funding due to state legislators’ choice to bail out Hartford.
Last year, the New Haven’s expenditures exceeded its budget, largely due to overtime costs from the fire and police departments. This year, after the city chose to refinance $160 million of its existing debt and take on $58 million in new borrowing, police overtime is projected to make the city’s expenditures on the department double its allotted amount by the end of the fiscal year. Grotheer said that staffing issues continue to be the primary cause of overtime costs.
“The primary reason [for the overtime surplus] is staffing — with some of these vacancies, shifts have to be filled. If there aren’t enough officers or sergeants or lieutenants to fill these shifts in straight time, they need to be brought in for additional shifts,” Grotheer said.
He clarified that costs tend to be front-loaded during the budget year, which begins on July 1. He said that costs rise quickly early in the fiscal year because officers take additional vacation time in the summer.
Grotheer said that earlier this month, acting Chief Administrative Officer Sean Matteson began discussing police overtime issues with aldermanic leaders to ensure that the costs are covered in the police department budget. To cover the police department overtime costs, Matteson and his team will work to make line item transfers — an administrative tool to move money from one budget line to another — in an effort to reduce excess spending, said Grotheer.
He said that it is a persistent challenge to retain New Haven officers because of the higher salaries offered by other municipalities’ police departments.
The New Haven Police Department has difficulty retaining its officers, losing a large portion of its force every year. The department graduated 35 members from its police academy in 2015 and lost 10 of those officers by the end of 2017, according to data obtained by the city’s human resources office.
Hartman told the News that New Haven cops leave the city’s police department for several reasons — the most obvious being that the department officers are paid less than officers elsewhere. He said that many other departments in quieter communities have better contracts, better pay and less work.
According to the New Haven Police Department’s 2017 applicant handbook, New Haven cops initially make $44,000 a year, one of the lowest starting salaries of any department in the state. Neighboring Hamden police officers start out at $76,000 and begin to earn $83,000 after four years. University police officers earn a starting salary of $67,797, with their top pay reaching $85,613, according to Yale Police Union attorney Andrew Matthews.
The city of New Haven’s October expenditures totaled more than $9 million.
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