SOUTHINGTON – A plan to consider hiring two more police officers ended Monday night during a party-line Town Council vote.
Democratic councilors proposed hiring two more police officers halfway through the upcoming fiscal year. They said the extra officers could help curb auto crimes that have risen in recent years.
The plan to add $122,000 to the upcoming fiscal year’s budget for police was voted down by Republicans, who hold a majority on the council.
They said the problem of car thefts and break-ins stemmed from state law. Republican councilors, joined by a Democrat, passed a resolution in February calling on state legislators to make changes in the justice system
Without changes in prosecution of car crime perpetrators and in how police can respond to such crimes, more officers wouldn’t do any good, according to Republicans.
“We all know the situation. If a police officer comes across one of these vandals and they fly by him, the police officer cannot pursue,” said Mike DelSanto, a Republican councilor. “If we hire two more officers, that’s two more officers who can stand there and watch him to get onto (Interstate) 84.”
Chris Palmieri, Democratic council minority leader, said hiring officers was within the town’s control while changing state law was not. More officers wouldn’t fix the entire problem, he said, but would bring the town’s police force closer to recommended number per capita.
“Adding additional staff is a proactive measure to combat those vehicle crimes,” Palmieri said.
Town officials voted to add two more police officers to the department last year, bringing the total to 70. Palmieri said FBI statistics show Southington could need a police force of 82 officers.
Republican councilors said police Chief Jack Daly hasn’t requested more officers for the upcoming fiscal year. Several said the request for a public hearing on more officers was a political move on the part of Democrats, leading to some tense moments at Monday’s meeting held via video conference.
Palmieri said he hadn’t intended for the discussion to become political and began responding to objections from other councilors when he was interrupted by Republican councilor Jim Morelli.
“I don’t need to sit here and listen to this crap,” Morelli said.
Council chairwoman Victoria Triano said councilors were getting frustrated and ended discussion on the topic for a time. Later on in the meeting, the council held a vote on whether to send the issue to a Board of Finance public hearing, a requirement if items are to be added to the budget recommended by Town Manager Mark Sciota.
That effort failed, leaving the budget for the upcoming fiscal year without changes. The council has yet to vote on the budget and it’s currently before the finance board.