New First Selectman Ed McAnaney’s first meeting as a member of the Suffield Board of Selectmen was a mix of contentious issues and practical matters.
The board discussed a reduction in police staffing, approved requests from town departments and set the rules of procedure for future meetings in a lively session at the Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association building Wednesday.
The most heavily discussed concern was an overall reduction of the number of sworn officers in the Suffield Police Department, from 20 officers to 18. Members of the Suffield Police Commission, Police Captain Craig Huntley and Chief of Police Mike Manzi were all in attendance to discuss the reduction, presented as a cost-saving measure by the selectmen.
Selectman Tim Reynolds said the board needed to weigh public safety and financial concerns, summing up the crux of the debate with his statement. The selectmen considered the financial effectiveness of increasing the overtime budget versus hiring new officers, with the consensus being that the least expensive option would be acted on.
For his part, Manzi said he focuses on the human element of policing before the financial element. He also noted that calls to the department, a large amount of which are medical calls the department is legally obliged to take as designated first responders in town, “have more than doubled in a 10-year period.”
There are 15 full-time officers currently in active service with the department. Although the department has been authorized to have a total of 20 officers since 2008, they’ve had trouble reaching that number according to Police Commission Chairman Don Miner.
“Typically, we’ve been at the 16- to- 18-[officer] level,” he said.
The department expects the two veteran officers on leave or reduced duty to return to full-time duty by the middle of December. A recruitment process for two new officers is also underway, although the final decision by the selectmen could end that process without new hires.
Manzi said he was notified of the possibility of a staff reduction during the week beginning Nov. 28. He said it was somewhat short notice but pointed out that with a new first selectman in office, some changes would happen sooner rather than later.
Suffield’s police chief’s concerns include possible staffing shortages during emergencies and periods of high activity as well as the burnout of officers if they are overworked, even though they would be compensated with overtime pay.
“We constantly deal with the element of unpredictability,” Manzi said, noting the current staffing level.
The board will likely reach a final decision at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 21, after further consideration of the pros and cons of staff reduction and associated costs in the interim.
For information on other matters decided on by the selectmen, including approval for a new fire truck and associated equipment, an update on redeveloping Bridge Street School and sharing Suffield’s animal control officer with East Granby as part of an inter-local agreement, check back later today on Suffield Patch.