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Is it time to consider putting “traffic agents” in place in Norwalk?

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The Norwalk Hour featured an interesting and enlightening article this past weekend that focused attention on the challenges faced by the Norwalk Police Department as it attempts to staff critical services – such as patrol – while dealing as creatively as possible with an unfortunate, and somewhat persistent, staffing shortage.  The article attributes this current “staffing crunch” to a variety of factors, including:  recent and impending officer departures; an unusually high number of officers either out, or on light duty, due to injury; recent hiring “misfires”; recent resignations due to misconduct; and the small pool of qualified candidates that area police departments are competing for – a challenge, incidentally, that departments across the country are also struggling with.

As sobering as the article was in describing NPD’s staffing challenges, one statement in particular stood out in my mind as being especially significant:  “Extra duty assignments such as providing traffic control for construction projects, road races, and security at festivals also ‘puts a huge strain on available officers,’ he (Chief Kulhawik) added.”

For me, at least, this statement practically begs the following question: Could now be the right time to consider establishing a team of “Traffic Agents” in Norwalk (as has been done successfully in the town of Westport) to handle extra-duty assignments such as monitoring construction sites and road races – and possibly other tasks as well that don’t require the full training and skill set required of a law enforcement officer?

My now-fuzzy recollection is that such an idea was discussed by the Common Council some five or six years ago as part of what I remember being a fairly vigorous discussion of NPD extra-duty assignments – a discussion that seems to re-emerge every few years in our town as reliably as cicadas or a recurrent sinus infection.  And what transpired then, as has invariably transpired again and again when such discussions take place in Norwalk, is that inertia prevailed and the status quo was maintained – all bolstered by a failure to carefully examine old hackneyed arguments, paired with the equally regrettable lack of courage to take on entrenched special interests.

But that was then, and this is now – and circumstances have changed. So putting aside whatever the historical reasons may have been for not seriously considering alternatives to police officers for extra-duty assignments, I would assert that today – in the here and now – a compelling case can be made for establishing a team of “Traffic Agents” in Norwalk. Reasons in support of doing so include:  access to a larger pool of candidates for the position of “Traffic Agent”; freeing up police officers to focus on tasks/missions that require greater/higher levels of skill; reducing pressure on, and incentive for, police officers to work unreasonable amounts of overtime and extra duty; and, ultimately, enabling our highly-qualified and highly-trained police force to provide a higher level of service to our citizens.

On the cost side of the equation, the benefits are more difficult to articulate – a fact that those who have opposed changes to the status quo in the past have been quick to take advantage of.  But for illustrative purposes, let’s look at one possible implementation scenario and set of assumptions, and assess its impact on costs to the City, costs to the recipients of extra-duty services, and costs to the City’s residents.

The assumptions for this scenario are that:

1)    A traffic agent’s pay would be less than that of a sworn police officer

2)    The City would continue to bill the beneficiaries of extra duty work (e.g. utilities, construction companies, tree removal services, etc) as is done today, but at a lower rate commensurate with the City’s lower cost,

3)    The team of traffic agents would report to the Police Chief/Head of Public Safety, and

4)   The total budget for public safety would be maintained at current levels

 

In the above scenario, the City’s cost for providing public safety services would be unchanged, while likely providing a higher level of service to its Citizens.  Recipients of extra-duty services would see a reduction in what they have to pay for such services – thus making them happy. And finally, Norwalk’s citizens would benefit from the reduced cost of extra-duty services since those costs are ultimately passed on to them by the Utilities, tree companies and construction companies that have to pay for them.

The above is a stalking horse only. It’s intended to stimulate a constructive and vigorous dialog that will hopefully result in a proposal for a better way to do things going forward- while helping address today’s very real challenges in finding and hiring qualified police officers.

Let the (hopefully) constructive dialog begin…

Larry Losio

9 comments

David Muccigrosso October 26, 2021 at 3:44 pm

Only as long as we dedicate an elite squad of these “Traffic Agents” towards “Skateboarder Deterrence”. You don’t need a gun to deal with teenage miscreants, but maybe a badge will at least keep them from being pests to us residents on Washington Street.

M Murray October 26, 2021 at 9:06 pm

Traffic agents in most other towns fill jobs not taken by off duty police officers. As the officers working these extra-duty assignments are taking these jobs in their off-duty time in excess of their regular hours, they would not be normally be available for any regular police duties unless they were hired on an overtime basis. To say that extra-duty assignments are causing a shortage of police officers available for services would be somewhat confusing, because most officers would prefer to accept full 8 hour shifts at a higher overtime rate than shorter extra-duty assignments and a slightly lower rate without shift differentials. It is unlikely the extra duty assignments that are causing staff shortages. It is more likely that fewer qualified parties wish to become police officers these days when the profession is under attack by politicians. Should police officers have fewer extra-duty jobs available to them, there will be even fewer qualified applicants seeking these jobs in Norwalk, as they can go to greener pastures. Those who choose to remain in Norwalk will surely seek other outside employment to supplement their income to make up for the loss of extra-duty assignments. If they have to work jobs at a lower hourly rate, they will surely have to work more hours than they already do to make up the difference in their income.

George October 27, 2021 at 5:52 am

No such a good idea. You want the city to hire X number of full time traffic agents? Let’s just say 10 for now. So, you have ten, year round traffic agents, making what $15.00 or $20.00 per hour to start? Plus benefits and vacation time.

Most if not all outside work for the extra duty jobs takes place between April, and I’ll push that to March to try to justify your idea. The work dries up by November if not October.

During the winter months when there are very few extra duty jobs what will these traffic agents do beside take taxpayers dollars while sitting around?

The city is locked into a contract with LAZ to enforce the parking lots. They hire their own agents to enforce parking so using them during the winter months for that is not an option.

I’d rather the contractors pay a police officer extra duty and let the city make a few extra dollars than have X number of taxpayer funded positions added to the payroll.

It’s not like Norwalk has a big Christmas tree sitting over an ice skating rink in the middle of town and 25,000 people a day for 3 months coming to look at it.

Scott Vetare October 27, 2021 at 8:51 am

I was a “Traffic Agent” in Westport back in the 90’s. It works out well for the small town. Not against it here but I would like to see LAZ gone and replaced by the Traffic Agents. In Westport they also write parking tickets. Make it a part time job like Westport does so no benefits are required. I totally 100% agree what Michael Murray wrote! I was also going to say that so thanks Mike for not making me type that! Lol…

Scott Vetare October 27, 2021 at 8:54 am

#justataxpayer, are you jealous that some cops work constantly and are away from their loved ones while supporting them!? I hope when you need one it’s a $250,000 officer. SMH @ you! 🤦

Steve October 27, 2021 at 5:24 pm

Having police officers direct traffic around construction vehicles is the biggest boondoggle around. The job is incredibly boring and the officers regularly are inattentive lot what’s going on. What a horrible waste of resources, mind numbing for the police and costly for the public

David October 27, 2021 at 9:33 pm

Why can’t we used to constables and for some of the traffic stuff DPW probably use some overtime and they get a lot less an hour and that’s not even hiring anybody

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