New London residents said fewer police officers in the city is leading to a huge increase in wait times for police to respond to less urgent calls.
On Monday night, residents packed the city council meeting to tell councilors that they need to hire more cops.
The city said that in 2011 they had 93 cops, and according to the New London Police Union President Todd Lynch, they have 25 fewer in 2017. Of those, Lynch said only 38 are patrol officers.
Lynch adds that a city ordinance calls for a minimum of 80 officers and four K9s. The police department currently has one K9.
"Just this weekend we had 15 overtime shifts. Eight of those orderings. So those are people that don't want to be here but are forced to work double shifts, and some have to come back the next night to work doubles again," said Lynch.
Lynch said having exhausted cops is not a sustainable solution.
"It's dangerous to the community, and it's dangerous to the officer," Lynch said.
Fewer officers on the street also mean prioritizing calls, which can mean longer wait times for non-emergency calls. Councilor John Satti who is a 25-year member of law enforcement says he called 911 one night around 8 p.m. after he thought he'd observed an attempted larceny.
"I later learned the officer assigned to that call did not show up until 11:30 at night. God forbid that call I was calling about was much more severe," Satti said.
"Having three to five officers during an eight-hour shift is unsafe for the officers and the citizens," Jay Wheeler with Neighborhood Alliance of New London said. "The criminals know there is a severe lack of police on the streets.”
New London City Council President Pro Tem Don Venditto Jr. said through budget deliberations, the council met with the acting chief several times to explain what budget needs the department required but that more officers never came up. Venditto said it's the first he's hearing about this.
"That had never been brought to our attention, and if it had at that point, I'm sure the council would have listened very closely. The mayor would have listened very closely. And we may have taken some other avenues to free up some other funds if there was a demand immediately for more policing," Venditto said.
"They put themselves in harm’s way every day and everyone here appreciate that, so we don't want them in unsafe conditions. It's difficult to hear this three months after we've finished a budget cycle," he said.
Lynch said that a lack of officers also means a change in how the department operates.
"We have become reactive instead of proactive, meaning we don't catch things before they happen. It happens and then we go and address it," Lynch said. "We solve the crimes, we make the arrest. But we don't stop it before it happens."
Lynch came to the table during the city council meeting with several suggestions for possible solutions including taking some of the $1 million given to the public school system to the police department. But others argued that was pitting public safety against education.
Lynch also suggested the money the city gets from the Board of Education for resource officers and for cops on private duty should be used to hire officers instead of going back into the general fund.
While there were heated words at the city council meeting, everyone seemed to understand that the move to 80 officers could not happen tomorrow, that the move would need to happen slowly with perhaps one or two officers added per year.
"In this budget we just passed, we moved up the numbers a little bit," Venditto said. "Money is tight. It's really tough times. We understand the need to have more policing on the streets, and we are moving in that direction."
Councilors said a big problem is the lack of a state budget. Without knowing what the state is going to give them, it makes it difficult to make any move towards hiring more. Council members said when they find out how much they'll get with a finalized state budget, that they may be able to make changes to their own budget then.
The union president emphasized that while he wasn't saying the city of New London is not safe, that it could be a lot safer with more officers.
"We want to work together with a solution, but we want to find a solution," Lynch said.