BERLIN — Police officers leaving the Berlin Police Department for other municipalities with better compensation have cost the town thousands of dollars, says Police Chief John Klett.
Three of the force’s officers have been hired by the Southington Police Department in the past eight months alone, which he attributes to Southington’s pension plan being more attractive than Berlin’s 401k-style, defined contribution plan. He estimated that the cost of training a new recruit is around $48,000 if they lack accreditation under the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council.
Hiring an untrained officer can be a hefty expense for cities and towns, since they have to cover the cost of putting a recruit through the police academy, while paying the recruit’s salary plus benefits through the 10 months it takes for them to become an accredited officer. During those 10 months, the department remains short an officer and can be forced to pay out overtime to keep shifts fully staffed.
Deputy Chief Christopher Ciuci said since the start of 2018, two Berlin recruits have graduated from the academy and another two are currently enrolled there. The department has positions for 42 sworn officers.
If another department in the state hires those officers within two years of their accreditation, Berlin is eligible to receive reimbursement from that municipality for the cost of the training and compensation for those 10 months. But if an officer leaves after serving two years, the town does not get reimbursed.
Connecticut Police Chiefs Association President James Cetran, who is chief of the Wethersfield Police Department, said municipalities across the state are struggling to hold onto their officers and keeping their compensation high is one of the few ways to keep them in place.
“I think one of the reasons why they do retain officers is loyalty, they like where they’re working … but if you’ve got an individual who is looking out for their future and looking out for the most they can glean from their pay and benefits, you’re going to get people moving,” he said. “I argue before my council all the time to not nickel and dime the police.”
While cities like New Haven or Hartford that offer lower pay are hit the hardest, Cetran noted that Berlin’s retirement package leaves it vulnerable to towns that offer pensions.
Berlin Mayor Mark Kaczynski said the town’s Police Commission is considering ways of stemming the loss, including increasing the amount the town matches into officers’ retirement plans. He doesn’t believe returning to a defined-benefit pension plan, which the town moved all employees away from in the early 2000s, is a viable solution however.
“I don’t know if we can afford it to go back to that kind of plan,” he said.
He also suggested that officers might have other reasons to leave for other departments, Berlin having a small force with limited opportunity for advancement.
Southington Police Chief John Daly said the department’s nine most recent hires were already accredited and keeping ahead of the statewide trend is in the back of his mind during contract negotiations.
“At one point the town of Southington considered switching pension plans and I gave my input to the town that we would be almost like a training ground,” he said. Instead the department has managed to lose only a handful of officers to other law enforcement roles, and mostly to the state police in particular.
“We don’t have that problem because we have a good pension,” he said. “There’s several departments that I know that have the 401k pension and I hear the chiefs say they’re losing officers.”
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