Milford police chief makes pitch for new jobs not funded in mayor’s budget

The Milford, Conn., police headquarters building.

The Milford, Conn., police headquarters building.

Jill Dion / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — With the Milford Police Department stretched thin, Police Chief Keith Mello submitted his budget with an eye towards adding new positions.

But Mayor Ben Blake and the finance board aren’t too keen on the additional expenses.

The Police Department requested $15.5 million, but the finance board matched the mayor’s recommended budget of $13.9 million.

During the budget hearing this week, Mello talked about some of the important trends the department is seeing.

In the last 12 months, Mello said they have seen an increase in robberies, purse snatches, larceny, motor vehicle thefts, catalytic converters and gun cases. Mello added that serious assaults are on a downward trajectory.

“These cases don’t just reflect response, but they also reflect a lot of work that has to go into these,” he said. “These are serious cases.”

Mello said there is a rise in crime, not just in Milford but across the country.

“Those that perpetrate these crimes pick and choose communities, so it’s not just your larger cities or those adjacent to the larger cities. It’s normally communities that are accessible,” he said. “So they’ll steal cars, travel to a community and commit a crime. They are preying on those they feel are most vulnerable, often the elderly.”

He added that there has been an uptick in disorderly behavior at the beaches, and the only way they could combat that was to place police officers in those areas.

“The public was very pleased, they enjoyed that, and they appreciated that, but that is very manpower intensive,” said Mello.

The department had requested four new police officer roles in its proposed budget, totaling $254,720. The mayor and finance board both recommended not funding those positions.

“Four police officers translates to just shy of one police officer per shift,” said Mello. “It is a long-term solution. If it was approved, we would start in July with recruiting, and we would do the selection process.”

Aldermen Raymond Vitali, R-5, said that more personnel or funding resolves today’s policing concerns because, as he stated, police are caught between a rock and a hard place.

“In light of all these crimes that I have mentioned, we have restructured the agency. We have six less detectives,” said Mello. “We’ve restructured the way we assign cars to make sure we put cars in hot areas as opposed to just splitting it up with equal parts.”

They also make sure they have a seat at the table when it comes to policy and legislation, Mello added.

“That’s why you see us up at Hartford, and you see us at the police academy so we can have some impact and make sure that people understand what our needs are,” he said.

Some new items in the budget are seasonal/temporary parking agents for the summer to help with aggressive parking enforcement at the beaches.

“Residents want that. They want the turnover, and you’ve asked us to do that,” said Mello, noting that it strains the department resources, especially on weekends.

Mello said officers don’t want to work on weekends because they want to be with their families, and so they are taking their vacation time during the weekends.

Another request that was not accepted by the finance board and mayor was a line item for two public safety dispatchers, with a total cost of $83,662. Mello said dispatchers are hard to retain in Milford because other places have higher pay. He said it's causing the department to use police officers as dispatchers.

One concern for the department is the 12 openings for police officers, and another four or five openings expected by October.

“We are certainly not the highest paid. Our benefits are pretty good, they used to be great, but they’re still pretty good,” he said. “Where that will go, I don’t know.”