Published July 18. 2014 4:00AM Updated July 18. 2014 3:21PM
New London — The New London Police Department is hoping the arrival of an estimated 30 potential recruits on Saturday is a step toward replacing the tide of officers who have departed in recent years.
As the department copes with its lowest officer levels in recent memory, these would-be police officers are expected to attend a city-sponsored agility test at New London High School. The test is one in a series to follow before applicants are considered for a job.
The department would like to see two new hires enter the police academy for a class that starts in October, another two for a January class, and is considering at least two people who applied as certified officers, a cheaper and speedier option.
But two officers have left the department in the past month and it seems unclear whether those positions would be immediately filled. Dozens of other positions left open with departures over the past several years have not been filled.
In light of recently approved funds to hire four officers, the city's personnel department contacted about 100 people who had passed an initial written test administered by the Law Enforcement Council of Connecticut, according to Arnetia Douglas, the chief examiner and labor assistant in the city's personnel department. The council tests people for potential jobs at 24 police departments in the region.
"I'm excited about the number of people who have applied," said Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard.
Reichard said that while larger police departments in the state will attract the most applicants, New London would be attractive to those looking for urban policing experience in a small-town setting.
The potential for new hires comes from a boost in funding from the City Council. Councilors said they recognized the dangerously low drop in manpower has led to more overtime and some complaints about visibility of police downtown.
Funding was made available for two new recruits and two transfers from other departments who are already certified through the Police Officer Standards and Training Council.
Councilor Erica Richardson, chairwoman of the public safety committee, said while hiring new officers is needed and likely easier, "it is still a long way to get them solo on the streets."
It often takes up to a year from the start of the hiring process to get a new officer on patrol.
The city should focus on the lateral transfers, Richardson said, officers who can almost immediately hit the street and ease the workload of other officers.
"Our officers are doing a yeoman's job … keeping it together on the streets," Richardson said. "We're looking forward to getting more officers on board and increasing their ability to do more community policing."
The department now has about 63 officers including the chief and deputy chief, but the City Council earlier this year passed an ordinance that would bring that number to 80.
Two vacancies were created last month when Officer Tim Henderson left to become a Connecticut state trooper and Officer Lonnie de la Cruz retired after 25 years with the department. At least four more officers are eligible for retirement in the coming year.
Union President Todd Lynch said the union was encouraged the city was finally moving ahead with the hiring process and said, "Every body would help at this point," considering the high number of double shifts mandated for existing officers.
"We've always been concerned about the number of people who have left and never been replaced. At one point we had 96 policemen. Where is that money going? And we've always questioned why they left," Lynch said. "It seems the city has never asked why they are leaving."
Without recognition of problems, Lynch said, there would be a "continuing circle" of officers being hired and others leaving.
The cost to the city per new officer can run upward of $100,000 with training, salary, benefits and equipment costs. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio had initially called for a $1.4 million increase in the police department's budget to fund an additional 15 officers, both new and certified, or an average of more than $93,000 per officer.
Probationary officers are paid a $54,530 salary while attending the academy and field training. That salary jumps to $57,315 for a Step 1 police officer, according to job postings.
Richardson said she was confident the past two departures would be "back filled" with money allocated in this year's budget. Past vacancies were never filled, she said, because the money simply wasn't there during a time of threatened layoffs. Further cuts to the department's budget are unlikely, she said, since cuts would run contrary to the council's own ordinance that looks to move the department to an authorized strength of 80 officers.
Reichard said the city is in a time crunch to properly vet the new recruits before hiring.
Recruits face a battery of tests even before they start their 20 weeks at the police academy and begin their field training. Saturday's agility test is what is referred to as a Cooper Test, a standardized test that police departments use to gauge the physical fitness of applicants, Reichard said. Based on age and gender, the test mandates a certain number of sit-ups and push-ups in a given amount of time along with a 1.5-mile run, among other tests.
Anyone who passes the Cooper Test could be invited to an oral examination, followed by psychological exam, background investigation, physical exam and drug screening typical at any department.
Reichard said he will make recommendations for new hires to Chief Margaret Ackley, who in turn will pass names over to Finizio, who by charter has the authority to hire.