Trumbull cuts school, traffic and mall police amid staffing shortages

Trumbull Police Chief Michael Lombardo presents update on pension study, staff and officer transfers during Tuesday's police commission meeting.

Trumbull Police Chief Michael Lombardo presents update on pension study, staff and officer transfers during Tuesday's police commission meeting.

Andy Tsubasa Field

TRUMBULL — Over the past year, school resource officers, traffic police and a mall cop have been moved to the department's patrol unit in the wake of staffing shortages, according to police officials. 

Last year, the police department transferred both of its middle school resource officers to work in patrol, Trumbull Police Chief Michael Lombardo told Hearst Connecticut Media. The department's two full-time traffic officers, whose assignments included responding to fatal car crashes and patrolling areas with traffic complaints, have also been moved to the patrol unit.

"Because of the shortages we're limited in what we can provide to the community in those special services because we have to concentrate on the basic function of responding to emergencies and patrol," Lombardo said.

Trumbull police also moved its only officer assigned to monitor the inside of Trumbull mall to the patrol division. The officer worked with mall and store security, along with retailers and business owners, Lombardo said.

"He was there all the time and he was at their disposal, and it's unfortunate we had to take him out," he said. "We look to the future someday being able to reassign him back to the mall."

Instead a patrol shift will cover an area that includes the interior and parking lot of the mall, along with parts of Main Street and Madison Avenue.

Overall, the number of car thefts and incidents of stealing from vehicles in Trumbull declined in 2021 after more than doubling in the first year of the pandemic, while shoplifting and other petty thefts dropped last year even after stores reopened. 

The transfer of Trumbull police to its patrol unit comes as the town considers whether to make changes to its pension program. 

About nine years ago, the town changed its pension plan from a defined benefit plan — known as a traditional pension plan — which involves retired employees receiving monthly benefits based on factors such as salary, age and length of time worked. 

The town replaced it with a defined contribution plan, which involves employees mainly paying into an individual retirement account. Police officials said the department has struggled to retain officers mainly due to this change. 

On Tuesday, Lombardo told police commissioners that more than 11 officers have left the department for other departments offering defined benefits over the past three years, which he estimates about 75 percent of local law enforcement agencies in Fairfield County offer. He said three additional officers have recently said they applied to departments in Norwalk and neighboring Monroe, which both have defined benefit plans.

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro and town officials are studying the feasibility of renegotiating with the Trumbull police union to offer a type of defined benefit plan, Lombardo said 

“What that would look like ... we really don’t know. It’s all based on whatever the cost would be,” Lombardo said. 

In January, Town Council approved $40,000 for a pension consultant, which has since begun working on the study. Police officials are hoping the study of police pensions will be completed next month, Lombardo said in Tuesday’s meeting.

As of this week, 71 officers are working for Trumbull police, including five who are in training and prohibited from working alone. All five of the officer recruits are expected to have graduated field training by November. Police are hoping to fill another 11 positions. 

“It’s been a struggle because we’re really working at 66 officers because they’re not covering shifts,” Lombardo said of the five new officers. “So we’re pretty much still on a regular basis ordering people to work 16-hour shifts.”

“It’s not good for the officer,” he added. “They need rest just like anybody else.”

Twitter: @AndyTsubasaF