Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe recently warned the Town Council about a potential staffing crisis that has arisen in his department.
“It takes a long time between posting a job and actually hiring someone, and then getting them on the force,” explained Dryfe. “If they are hired, they have about 10 weeks worth of paperwork and tests they have to complete, and they need to do six months at the Police Academy and then 12 weeks of field training. The officers that we hired last year in September won’t be done with their field training until July 12. The lag time there is really slowing us down.”
Dryfe explained his situation to Councilors on April 28, as the group continues to discuss the Town’s operating budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. This is the second time this issue has been discussed, the first being at the budget workshop where Dryfe and Fire Chief Jack Casner both echoed concerns about staffing issues at their departments. Dryfe is requesting a budget of $6.2 million.
Dryfe went on to explain at the April 28 meeting that, even if the Council were to allow for the Department’s 48th officer position, which was frozen last year, to be filled, the Police Academy class that will be graduating on July 1 of this year won’t be ready for training until September 10.
“If you (the Council) authorize the funding for that position that officer probably won’t be ready for patrols by themselves until just after July 1 of the next year,” he explained. “The bottom line is .. … I don’t want to say that we’re in crisis mode, but it’s getting close, from a hiring perspective.”
Dryfe added that the Southington Police Department is currently in the process of hiring four new officers, one of whom left Cheshire for Southington.
“I’ve spoken with both the chiefs over in Southington and probably before this upcoming weekend is up, I will have another two-week notice (from a Cheshire officer),” he admitted. “So now we will actually go down to 38 officers available for duty, which starts to make things very complicated.”
Dryfe explained that there are provisions in the union contract that kick in when the patrol shifts dip below six officers per shift.
“A few things start to happen — patrol officers can’t get any time off … and then people in non-patrol assignments have to begin to take over those shifts so the officers can take time off,” he detailed. “We’ve had to pull three specialty officers from their posts just so they can cover the patrol shifts.”
Such specialty positions include the school resource officer who, like others, has a specific role within the community. Dryfe stated that, generally speaking, his officers are tired of working so much overtime and as the summer approaches that feeling will only get worse.
“The worst-case scenario is that we are contacting officers halfway through their current shift that they have to stay and work a double shift, and that’s not fair to any of them,” he said.
The problem facing the department was made even more clear when Deputy Chief Fred Jortner interrupted the Council meeting to inform Dryfe that another current officer had just given his two weeks notice.
Councilor David Borowy, who chairs the Finance Committee, stated that, while the addition of a new officer might cost the Town around $80,000, the Department has seen savings in several other areas, therefore providing some possible wiggle room when it comes to granting the PD’s staffing requests.