BEACON FALLS — In September, Project Purple founder and CEO Dino Verrelli accidentally tripped the alarm at the nonprofit organization’s office downtown. When he received a call from the alarm company he asked for an officer to be dispatched just to clear up that it was him in the building. It took 39 minutes for a state trooper to respond.
“She had to come all the way from Shelton to come here to check on the alarm. It took them 39 minutes on an alarm to get to Beacon Falls,” said Verrelli, who recounted the story to the Board of Selectmen during its December meeting.
“As a business owner we have the alarm and we have cameras,” Verrelli added. “But it’s 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. How come we don’t have any police on? To me that’s a concern as a business owner and a resident.”
The town uses the Connecticut State Police Resident State Trooper program, which means it doesn’t have its own department. Under the program, a state trooper is appointed to a specific municipality. The municipalities in the program use a state police barracks to hold prisoners and the state’s emergency dispatch system.
Officials looked into starting an independent police department for the town as the program’s cost has risen over recent years. However, they decided not to pursue it any further after estimates showed it would cost more than the program.
The program is augmented with town-hired police officers. However, there are times when the resident state trooper, who works the day shifts Monday through Friday, is out and the only officer covering Beacon Falls is a state trooper responsible for a large section of Route 8.
First Selectman Chris Bielik said, in a subsequent interview, this was likely the situation in Verrelli’s case.
“When the trooper is not available coverage falls on the Route 8 trooper,” Bielik said. “We don’t get a one-for-one replacement.”
Bielik said part of the problem is that the town is short on part-time officers.
Bielik explained the town budgets for police coverage by the number of shifts needed, not by the number of officers. To cover all the shifts, the town would likely need 11 part-time officers and three full-time officers in addition to the resident state trooper, he said.
The town has had that many officers in the past, but currently has eight part-time and three full-time officers.
“We are always looking to augment our part-time police force,” Bielik said. “We do everything in our power to have zero gaps in coverage.”
The town is also facing competition from other municipalities for officers.
Bielik said the town hires certified officers, which are officers that have at least one year experience on the job, in order to cut down on training costs. Although it is looking for officers, the town is drawing from the same pool that other municipalities in the state draw from, he said.
As officials prepare to begin budget deliberations for the 2017-18 fiscal year, Bielik said they will once again budget enough funding to cover every shift.
Even if the town did have a full complement of part-time officers, it does not mean every shift will always be covered.
According to the police contract, the town has to offer full-time officers a certain amount of shifts and there is a cap on the number of shifts that can be covered by part-time officers, Bielik said.
“We are only allowed a limited amount of part-time coverage for missing shifts from when the trooper is not available,” Bielik said. “That is a point of discussion between the town and bargaining union.”