Chief: Trumbull police need two more officers

TRUMBULL — Police Chief Michael Lombardo said he is hoping to add two police officers to the department in anticipation of new housing complexes opening in town in the next 12 months.

“We have quite a few apartment complexes coming into town, and even if the population doesn’t increase, it is more dense,” he told the Police Commission.

While the addition of a few hundred residents in a town the size of Trumbull — where about 37,000 people live — might not be a big population increase, Lombardo said those few hundred people will be living close to each other rather than being spread out among single-family homes on a half-acre or acre of land.

The department also is anticipating increased medical calls given the planned senior living accommodations.

“We want to get ahead of the curve,” he said.

In Lombardo’s planned 2020-21 budget, he asked for the two officers, with a salary of $58,254 each. The spending plan is subject to review by First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, the Board of Finance and the Town Council. The new fiscal year begins in July, but Lombardo expects the new hires to come on board mid-year.

“In the 2020-21 year, several hundred apartments are going to be occupied,” he said. “So let’s ask for the two (officers) for Jan. 1, 2021, so it’s not as big an increase.”

As a practical matter, Lombardo added that hiring police officers is a time-consuming process. With the application process, screening, testing, academy training and on-the-road training in town, it can take up to a year to get a new officer on the beat.

The delay in adding new officers to the force is part of the reason why the department typically operates a few officers below its authorized staffing level. Currently, Lombardo said, the department is operating five officers below its authorized 81-member limit.

Being short a few officers does not diminish the department’s ability to provide its core services, Lombardo said, but it does drive up overtime costs and reduce the availability of officers for community work.

“We do more in the community now than we ever did,” Lombardo said. “We really try to get officers out there.”

Lombardo said the department is never short officers in the field.

“We are always at the required level, and regularly put additional people out there,” he said.

The overtime also can wear out officers, said Police Commission Chairman Ray Baldwin. Officers work what is called a 6-3 6-3 6-4 schedule where they are on duty six days, off three, on six, off three, on six, off four. The schedule, which allows officers 10 days off every four weeks, allows for extra duty to earn extra income, but the incentive of extra cash starts to lose its appeal after a while, Baldwin said.

“You keep asking guys to be on-call for overtime, and then they can’t make plans with their families,” Baldwin said. “Stand outside directing traffic on a (35-degree rainy) day like today. That gets old.”

Bringing the department up to 83 officers would help alleviate the overtime crunch, but as a practical matter, the department will rarely have that many officers, Baldwin said.

“Departments have a hard time filling spots,” he said. Twenty years ago, departments would announce the hiring of five officers and receive more than 100 applications. In its most recent hiring, 18 applicants passed the screening process.

After getting hired, one recruit failed the agility portion of the police test, and another decided law enforcement wasn’t for him after one day at the academy, Baldwin said. While this was going on, another promising new hire left Trumbull to take a job in another town with a more attractive pension plan, rather than the 401k that Trumbull offers.

“And of course when that happens, you have to go all the way back to the beginning and start with applications and screening all over again,” Baldwin said.