Down 9 officers, Milford chief says staff levels harming morale

MILFORD — Police Chief Keith Mello said people are leaving the police departments, and there is difficulty recruiting “good people.”

Mello said there will be nine or 10 openings by the end of February, a trend seen in all departments.

“With these openings, we have fewer officers to be on patrol, and we have reduced special assignments as well,” Mello said while addressing the Milford Police Commission at its meeting on Nov. 8. “Officers want to take their time off as well as weekends, and nobody wants to work overtime any longer.”

Mello told Hearst Connecticut Media the department had recently hired nine officers from the academy, but they won’t be in the field and take their first call until the end of February or the beginning of March.

“Currently, we have 109 officers on staff, but we only have 100 officers working because nine of those officers are still in training,” he said. “And we have one officer that is away on military leave.”

Despite the addition of nine officers from the academy, Mello said there are still seven openings. He expects that number to grow to 10 by the end of February.

“That’s a considerable number of officers to be down,” he said. “One of the benefits of running your own academy is normally it keeps the department well-staffed, the problem we are running into is that officers are either leaving or taking retirement. Which is something we haven’t seen here.”

To be considered fully staffed, the department would need to have 116 officers on duty, Mello said.

“Right now, we have 16 fewer officers for the field, and that’s too little,” he said.

As a result of being so short-staffed, Mello said it has become necessary to hold over officers at the end of their shift.

“This has a strong impact on the morale of the department,” he said.

The department has also had to cancel days off, and Mello said he was certain there would be grievances due to this in the future.

“We are continuously having to hold over and call officers in early,” he said.

Mello added that he has a plan to address people leaving departments, and there will be further discussion regarding that when the members review the budget as submitted.

Mello said he budgeted about $680,000 for overtime, which he said is far less than other departments Milford’s size.

“We use more than that, but that’s what’s in the budget, and we normally have to transfer money from other accounts to make it through the year,” he said. “Departments our size are usually well over $1 million for overtime.”

The department would run out of overtime money by January or February, he added. But this year is different because officers have been less likely to volunteer to work overtime jobs.

“We try to hire officers for vacancies, but they don’t want to work because they want to be home on weekends and nights,” he said. “I can’t leave the city in an unsafe condition because I don’t have enough officers. I have to have enough officers.

“Officers don’t like being ordered in, but they understand it because they understand our responsibility to the public,” he said.

Mello said he is hoping to get 200 applicants for the open positions, but he said it’s probable the department will not meet that number.

“Five years ago, we would normally have 1,000 applicants by now, and, right now, we have 80,” he said. “Many of those applicants year after year and have tested for other agencies, and remember, we are recruiting from the same pool of candidates. Where there used to be thousands, we are seeing often less than 100.”

On the other side, Mello said the staffing shortage has made it more important to keep the current officers motivated and engaged. So the department makes every effort to provide officers with the best possible training,resources, facilities, and support.