Zero-increase police budget puts focus on school safety
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Jan. 24, 2013
With zero-percent budget increases mandated across the board in South Windsor, department heads have been challenged to present budgets for the 2013-14 fiscal year that meet their operational needs while remaining within tight constraints. With heightened sensitivity placed on security issues in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., the South Windsor Town Council carefully listened to Police Chief Matthew Reed's proposed budget during its work session on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
The budget maintains spending at $5,564,504. “In order to meet the zero-percent change mandate, it was necessary to reduce our expenses by a total of $131,823 to offset contractual salary agreements,” said Reed.
Reed told the council that the department operates with reduced staffing. It is funded for 41 sworn personnel, though it currently has two vacancies and one long-term absence. Reed said the department should have a staff of about 50.
While Reed said he understands the challenges the town faces, he explained the impact the reductions will have. “Instead of two full-time school resource officers, we now have one and a half,” he said. “The school resource officer at the middle school also serves as a youth service officer back at headquarters, assisting child welfare investigations.”
“Our special enforcement unit has been eliminated, our police K9 unit has been eliminated, and our criminal investigations unit has been reduced from three investigators to two,” said Reed.
His focus has been staffing the patrol function of the department.
The department is also trying to fill positions needed in the communications center. They recently hired a new dispatcher, and Reed is prepared to hire a second to fully staff the center. The addition of these two positions will reduce overtime costs the department has incurred.
Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano noted the overtime expenses the department paid in 2012, which was close to $436,000. Projections for 2013 and 2014 place overtime costs at $330,000 and $350,000, respectively. Reed explained that vacancies equal overtime. Returning to the topic of the understaffed communication center, he said that if there was a vacant shift and no other dispatcher could take it, then the shift would go to an officer. Not only are officers paid more than dispatchers, the extra work taxes the officer more, as he or she now has less rest time before their next shift.
Councilor Saud Anwar said that he wanted to see the school resource officer at Timothy Edwards Middle School become full-time. Mayor Thomas Delnicki agreed, saying that in light of recent events, reducing the presence of school resource officers “doesn't make sense.” Reed agreed, but with staff spread thin as it is, he would not be able to maintain two full-time school resource officers without removing officers from patrol duty.
Councilor Edward Havens also weighed in, saying the bare-bones budget "scares me.”
“What we must provide is those school resource officers,” Havens said. He wanted to see coverage at elementary schools, as well. “We have a different ball game this time around. We have to consider every aspect of what is necessary for our safety.”