Does Redding need to reduce its police staff?
There were mixed reactions to this question at Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting.
Shortly after the meeting began, Wolf Boehme — a resident who formed an online petition and Facebook page to gather support for reducing the number of police in town — stood up in his seat, faced Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton, as well as Selectmen Peg O’Donnell and Michael Thompson, and aired his concerns.
Reading from his petition — on which he had collected about 175 signatures — he said he is worried about “the budget pressures on Redding taxpayers.”
The Redding Police Department currently includes one chief, one captain, four patrol supervisors, nine patrol officers, one detective, a year-round, full-time school resource officer, a part-time school safety officer who works only while school is in session, one animal control officer, one communications supervisor, four full-time dispatchers, two part-time dispatchers, one special officer, and nine auxiliary officers.
On his petition, Boehme suggests three alternatives for changes in the current police force:
- Two town police officers on duty on all shifts.
- One town police officer on duty supported by a resident state trooper or an officer from a neighboring town based on a mutual aid agreement or shared services model.
- Converting to using the Connecticut resident state trooper program.
Under a resident state trooper program, municipalities contract with the State Police for the services for one or more state troopers to conduct policing in a town or to manage local officers.
To meet the town’s needs, Boehme suggested a police force of 10 officers and a supervisor.
The Board of Selectmen meeting — which was held at the Community Center and was standing-room-only — was filled with many members of law enforcement in Redding.
More than a dozen people expressed their reaction to Boehme’s petition. Many of them said they are against reducing police staffing, saying they enjoy the feeling of security.
“I moved to Redding from Fairfield because it is a safe community,” Adam Kohlberg said.
Kohlberg said he supports having local police available to help residents with their needs. “In this day and age, it’s important to have those personal relationships,” he said.
Joe Paola, a former resident state trooper in town, agreed with Kohlberg and also said he is against a state trooper program — which the town had until 2002.
“When state troopers are unavailable — if they are on personal leave, vacation, holiday or sick time — there is no one to fill in for them,” he said. “If you need help, then the guy in Waterbury will come out to help you. When seconds count, the cops won’t be only minutes away.”
Paola recalled a story from his resident trooper days.
“One of our police officers got into a bar fight. There was no one to back him up,” he said.
“I don’t want to see the town go backwards. Do you want to put value on a life?” Paola said to the audience.
Gino Marcelli of Redding said the issue of police staffing can be compared to wearing a seat belt in a car.
“You probably don’t need them but it can probably save my life, so thank you,” he said, turning around and facing some of the officers who were sitting and standing in the rows behind him.
There were residents, however, who spoke up about what they said is an increasing struggle to live in Redding.
Ellen Williams said while she is very appreciative of the Redding police, she thinks the cost of the department — as well as other expenses in town — have “ballooned.”
“I’m concerned with the tax increases and spending in town,” she said, adding she thinks Boehme’s concerns about the size of the police force are “reasonable.”
“There is probably a right, scientific analytic answer [to the issue of police staffing],” Williams said. “It will require taking a really good, hard look at this and at other things in town.”
Lindsay Steiner agreed with Williams and said there “seems to be the militarization of a small town,” in reference to Redding’s current police staffing model.
“There should be some kind of balance,” she said, adding, “If this was corporate America, heads would be rolling.”
Still others said there are not enough police in town. “We are understaffed,” said Redding resident Tracy Darmofal, the mother of an eighth grader.
While there are officers at the elementary and middle schools, “we need a police officer at the high school. They don’t have one there now,” Darmofal said.
Once everyone who wanted to speak got a turn, Pemberton said the issue of police staffing in Redding is a work in progress.
“We will dig into the police department budget in terms of need, call volume and the way we respond,” she said.
She added that she is also looking at the cost of police services in other towns, and is in the process of gathering data to share with the community.
Pemberton said looking statewide and around Fairfield County, Redding will be comparing “how other departments and how other towns do things so that we can provide the best services at the best price. We are aware that tax dollars are valuable.”