Colchester first selectman says town needs to consider 24-hour police
By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Colchester - posted Fri., Feb. 14, 2014
First Selectman Gregg Schuster believes it’s time for the town of Colchester to talk about boosting police protection as the town begins crafting a 2014-15 town budget.
Schuster made a brief presentation at a Feb. 4 dinner meeting of the Colchester Business Association held at Town Hall.
Schuster said that as budget discussions get underway, there are areas he’d like to focus on, such as public safety.
He described the town’s ambulance service as a "hybrid," meaning it is a combination of paid staff and volunteers.
Schuster said the town receives about 1,900 calls a year, of which about 70 percent are for medical emergencies, 20 percent are related to accidents, and the rest is related to other needs.
"So, the volunteers are really strained," Schuster said, but it may not be financially feasible to add more paid staff.
Instead, he said, he’d like to see a current incentive program, which pays volunteers $50 for six-hour shifts, continue to be funded.
It’s important that "whenever someone calls 911, there’s someone out the door immediately," Schuster said.
The approximately $96,000 it costs to fund this incentive program is considerably less than adding staff, he said.
Schuster also said many people in town have the mistaken idea that because there’s a State Police barracks in Colchester, there are "50 state troopers available at any given time to break down doors and solve crimes" in town.
In fact, the troopers are responsible for emergencies in surrounding towns as well, Schuster said, and they are going to respond to the most life-threatening calls before they respond to a report of a car break-in, for example.
He also said data indicates that the biggest spike in burglaries in town, specifically those at places of business, are at 7 a.m. Or at least, that’s when they’re reported because, "that’s when business owners open up shop and discover the burglary," Schuster said.
Local police are not on duty after midnight, he said.
"So, it may be time for us to talk about 24/7 police coverage, which is something that was recommended by a task force back in 2007," Schuster said.
Responding to a question from the group about whether there are drug dealers in Colchester, Schuster said yes, and cited a recent arrest during which police found heroin, firearms and $1,000.
Schuster also talked about crimes related to drug use. "Heroin is one of the cheapest drugs available," he said, and it can be found everywhere, not just in urban areas.
Laws and enforcement of those laws are not enough, Schuster said. "Just going after drug dealers doesn’t solve the problem, it’s the community that owns this," he said.
People need to reach out to those in their own community that they know are at risk or who already are struggling with addiction. "It’s not just kids, and it impacts everyone," he said.
"I know we don’t talk about it much, but we have overdoses and deaths… the last overdose was an hour ago," he said.
There was discussion about whether police coverage could be improved through scheduling changes.
Schuster said there currently are 11 officers covering Colchester – including two administrators and the school resource officer – and that regulations require two officers to be on duty for each shift.
He also said officers are contracted to work five days on, three days off.
Currently, officers do work later hours during the summer, but any additional changes would require negotiating, "and we would have to pay for it," Schuster said.
In his town update, Schuster also mentioned new businesses coming to town.
He said he expects the opening of Tractor Supply in Colchester to kick off an expansion in the south side of town, once utilities are in place.
Other new businesses include a frozen yogurt franchise and in the spring, a Dollar General store, he said.