WALLINGFORD — Po-lice Chief Douglas Dortenzio talked at length about the need for additional officers and new police cars during Tuesday night’s Town Council budget workshop.
There are five patrol vacancies, soon to be six next week when another officer is expected to retire, Dortenzio told councilors.
“We have fewer officers than we had 25 years ago,” Dortenzio said.
A police force should grow with its town, but as the town has grown significantly in the past three decades, staffing has shrunk, he said. The department has 95 employees.
“The tasks we’re asked to handle are more numerous,” Dortenzio told councilors.
The police budget also calls for seven police cruisers. By December, Dortenzio said, the department will have seven cars with over 300,000 miles, five with between 250,000 and 300,000 miles and three with between 200,000 and 250,000 miles.
Dortenzio requested a $1.14 million budget for fiscal year 2014-15, a decrease from the $1.2 million he requested last year.
The request was approved in the mayor’s proposed 2014-15 $151.77 million budget, which requires a 2.06 percent tax increase. Dortenzio said the decrease can partially be attributed to savings realized with reduced vacation time as longtime employees retire. There are 71 fewer vacation days the department needs to fund in 2014-15, Dortenzio said.
The lack of officers in town is a “dynamic problem across the state,” Dortenzio said. “We’re never going to catch up.”
Part of the problem is there isn’t enough room in the Meriden training academy, he said. Also, there are 34 departments in the state looking to hire, but only five are looking for new employees, he added. “The others are looking to raid other departments. It’s basically become a free market system where employees are moving from department to department looking for increased compensation.”
While Dortenzio said he doesn’t expect to fill the six open positions, they are still funded in his budget, which calls for $6.4 million to fund salaries and wages and just over $400,000 for overtime expenses.
“If we do not provide that funding at the outset, my belief is it has an effect on the ability to administer the department,” Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said. “If we feel we need that number, I think the department, in the very serious responsibility it has, should be in a position to as quickly as feasible provide for its needs.”
Town Councilor Christine Mansfield said that according to her research, the town averages 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents, a rate that is less than the state threshold.
“This shows that it’s incumbent for us to support staffing,” she said.
Dortenzio said that he hopes things change and that one day the department can be fully staffed.
The police budget calls for $176,565 for the seven new police cruisers. The department’s oldest cruiser is from 2007. But the cruiser with the most miles, about 411,000, is from 2013, Dortenzio said.
“You have to remember these things never turn off,” he added.
Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said he was confused how a newer car, from 2013, can have more miles than a 2007 vehicle.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Dortenzio explained that some cars are used more than others, based upon the patrol schedule.
The department replaces about seven cars per year, Dortenzio said. While the automobile industry makes police cars out to be specially equipped to last longer, “the basic car is the same” as retail models, he said, because there isn’t enough demand for automobile companies to develop special vehicles just for police.