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NPD faces ‘serious staffing issues’

The parking lot behind Norwalk Police headquarters.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Police Department is “definitely having some serious staffing issues,” Deputy Norwalk Police Chief Susan Zecca said.

With 181 officers authorized, the department is down to 166 sworn officers, Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said Monday. The dip is attributed to retirements and resignations, but six recruits are set to enter the police academy in January, according to Deputy Chief James Walsh.

“Additionally, we have a substantial amount of officers who are out on long term injuries or illnesses. That is further complicating our staffing issues. We are actively recruiting right now,” Zecca said Oct. 28.

The department has lost 12 officers this year, said Lt. David O’Connor, police union president, adding that four officers left due to disciplinary issues. “Add in officers out on workers comp and we are getting into a bad place for staffing.”

Officers Michael DiMeglio and Sarah Laudano resigned recently due to their arrests on charges of second degree larceny and reckless endangerment. Laudano was also charged with risk of injury to a child.

O’Connor said the City had no choice but to allow them to resign; in his opinion, they might have been rehabilitated but the public perception made that impossible.

Officers are being shifted away from the Marine Unit and School Resource Officer (SRO) duty and community policing onto patrol, because, “We need us enough officers on the street to keep the city safe at all times. And that is our first priority,” Zecca said.

“There are times at this point when there are construction jobs, etc., that are going unfilled, because we do not have the stuff to cover it,” she said.

The “tough situation” with staffing is causing a strain on the newest officers, who come into work expected to work their regular shift but then may be asked to stay longer to cover staff shortages, according O’Connor.

Walsh said it’s always been that way but O’Connor described this as potentially counterproductive, given that this generation thinks differently.

“One of the cornerstones of Millennials is they would rather have time away from work than a pay raise. They also don’t anticipate being in the same job for their entire career, they anticipate changing careers midstream,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said some folks are just retiring early but, “some of the people have taken us a little by surprise. I just think some of it, they don’t like the job. They don’t like the environment, some of it, they don’t like police accountability and the added scrutiny that is brought on, or are not cut out for the demands that the job places on you and your family and your social life and your personal life. … When push came to shove, they just didn’t like it.”

One officer had a property management business established and went there, O’Connor said. Another had ventured into buying and flipping homes and went into real estate.

“I don’t know where the other ones are going. I couldn’t tell you they never mentioned it to me,” he said. But, “There’s definitely a difference in the thought process of a Millennial versus a Baby Boomer or Gen X, in the way they see work the way they see benefits, the way they see working conditions. That translates into a different philosophy about work in general.”

The SRO staffing has been cut from eight to three for Norwalk’s 10 public schools and the high schools don’t have dedicated SROs, according to the Rowayton PTA.

“We’re providing additional resources with our patrol staff,” Zecca said. “So, if a patrol officer who’s patrolling that area has time, they’re spending time at the school.”

NPD has also worked with NPS to have an officer on overtime to make sure there’s always coverage at the schools, she said.

The Marine Unit transfers are just for the winter, Sgt. Greg Scully said.

“We plan to hold a symposium, like an informational session … to try to encourage people to come out and get their questions answered and, and if they’re even thinking about a potential career in law enforcement, so they can meet officers and get, you know, kind of get a feel for what it’s all about,” Zecca said.

It’s scheduled for early December, Kulhawik said.

Walsh said, “manpower is fine right now.”

While he said six recruits are going to the academy in January, he added that it will be 39-40 weeks before “you could have that unit on the road,” given the time for training.

O’Connor said he expects a couple of officers will be leaving by the end of the year. “One I’m fairly certain of, a couple I’m pretty certain of, and I’m not positive,” he said. However, “We are not seeing an influx of lateral people like we used to,” O’Connor said, referring to officers coming from other departments.

Bridgeport Officers Mario Pericep and Chealsey Ortiz came to Norwalk as “lateral transfers” in June but resigned just one day after they were sworn in, after the public questioned their backgrounds.

“We used to see a lot of lateral people wanting to come work here, it was a good place to work,” O’Connor said. “That incident sort of cut right to the core of a transferring officers’ security. It’s very hard to get excited about coming here when you’re not sure if you’re going to be summarily dismissed for some past problem that you really didn’t do anything wrong. It was just, you’re ‘past problem-adjacent.’”

Walsh said the department just hired a “lateral” officer.

“There’s been no deterrence. That’s not true,” Walsh said. There have been lateral candidates but they have to take a test, it’s more rigorous since the Pericep/Ortiz issue.

“They are actively recruiting, making offers to people, giving conditional offers to several future candidates to try and try and bring in some new, some new blood,” O’Connor said. “So I’m hoping this is a relatively short-lived process. We didn’t get here overnight and we’re not going to get out of it, overnight. But as long as they’re continuing to recognize that something’s got to get done and we’ll get it fixed. It might take a while, but we’ll get it fixed.”

Updated, 1:55 p.m.: Information added.

17 comments

David Osler November 9, 2021 at 6:14 am

You could always rework some of your policies on manpower one of them is you don’t need for officers for a down wire especially if it’s a cable line also why can’t DPW fire department or a private company handle road flagging in many cases especially if there’s a manpower shortage. There is infinitely more important things for the police to be doing then having 10% of the on-duty officers looking at a down-to-wire you only need one person to direct traffic and they don’t necessarily have to be an officer the entire time

Ct. V November 9, 2021 at 6:30 am

Is there anyone else they could be whining about? It’s the fault of millennials, the public for wanting increased officer responsibility, anyone who thought hiring police that were involved in suspicious officer involved shootings was a bad idea, etc. is it their responsibility for not getting the best people? Don’t hear that anywhere.

And can we use this as a way to not need official NPD officers sitting in their car at construction sites?

Stuart Garrelick November 9, 2021 at 9:10 am

I don’t know many people who can afford to retire early. How attractive (pension? benefits?)is it to retire early from the force.
Nancy, can you get the answers?
Also, Periceps and Ortiz seemed to be treated unfairly and pressured to resign. They were convicted without a trial.

Norwalk Resident November 9, 2021 at 11:55 am

I see quite the disconnect about “staffing issues”. 3 people (including the Union President) say there are and the one Deputy Chief (Walsh) says there isn’t?

Norwalk resident November 9, 2021 at 12:30 pm

Perhaps, we can cut down the number of officers on a dirt job. Just last week four officers were working on a construction job next to the broad river firehouse. They were all so close that they could talk to each other. One was eating a sandwich, one had his hands in his pocket, one was having coffee, and the other was checking his phone! Whats the purpose of that? Why wont the city pay them overtime to work for them?

piberman November 9, 2021 at 1:04 pm

Sadly a similar story across the nation. Each year about 200 Police Officers loose their lives.
Perhaps the repeated calls for “defunding the Police” are having their cumulative effects on moral of what can be dangerous public service.

Those of us who have lived in Norwalk for many decades hold our local Police Dept in high esteem. And that reflects our former long serving Police Chief Rilling. And our current Chief.

piberman November 9, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Those that disparage our local police or view them as “overpaid” ought spend a few hours in a patrol car late at night Downtown and see what the “job” really is like. Getting home in one piece to see their families is always in the back of their minds. Its’ a job that takes a major physical and mental toll over a career. Those who consider our Police “overpaid” ought compare salaries and benefits with our pubic school teachers who enjoy long summer vacations. Police officers routinely work night shifts. Our other public employees usually do not. When we call 911 we know we’ll have a quick response. That ought encourage our deep respect. No one knowledgeable about the “job” ever calls It an easy or “soft career”. So show respect !

DryAsABone November 9, 2021 at 4:44 pm

Our heros…
“Officers Michael DiMeglio and Sarah Laudano resigned recently due to their arrests on charges of second degree larceny and reckless endangerment. Laudano was also charged with risk of injury to a child.”

Marc Anthony Lepore November 10, 2021 at 7:34 am

When Officers work a construction/road detail for 8-16 hrs, the patrol car/area is their office for that period of time… should they not be allowed to eat during that time?
should they leave the site, to eat, while being paid by an outside contractor thus leaving the traffic concern unattended?
If Officers sit in their car and eat then it appears they are “doing nothing”
Should Officers not be allowed to use their phone while working or ‘in their office”?
Should Officers be denied the right to answer their phone calls from family members, friends,co workers, supervisors and community members?
I would hope that more thought would go into some of these “opinions” from unnamed know it alls

Norwalkct November 10, 2021 at 2:53 pm

Leave the policeman alone, they work extremely hard to protect our city. If you think the job is so simple, they are hiring! Many of you who bash the police I wonder if you would have the guts to stand up and face an armed criminal or would you run into a burning building to save someone? Or see all the horrific things they have to Indore throughout their career! I doubt it.

You hide behind a fake name and then trash The police. And I always love you people out there who say well it only takes a GED to become a police officer. I doubt you would have the guts to do that job!!!

I bet you Norwalk haters would be very upset when you lose the almost $1 million of money that I understand we get from the 15% fee of all the extra work that is occurring in our town!

Maybe next time you drive by the police officers who are standing in the roadway in all types of whether you should stop ,thank them and offer to buy them a coffee or a cold water for their service.

Piberman November 10, 2021 at 5:55 pm

For many if not most City homeowners who don’t have kids in our public schools its likely that our Police are among the most important City employees if not the most important. Unlike that “other” City newspaper that often acts like a Police Gazette always anxious to report police stories Nancy’s follows a high professional standards involving Police matters. That’s appreciated not only by City residents but I’d bet our Police Department. Over the 4 decades I’ve been a City resident our City PD has received high marks from professional reviews.That ought be a recognized source of pride for all of us. As also evidenced with comparisons of the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports. Lets leave beating up on City Police to that “other newspaper” that has “issues” reporting on police activities.

If the opportunity arises I suggest talking to our local police officers and learn what their job is like. It’ a lot tougher and more demanding than most suppose. Speak to a local police officer and find out first hand. When you call for help they respond. That’s worth our respect.

Tony P November 11, 2021 at 7:18 am

I love the comments about “worth our respect” and “buy them a coffee and thank them for their service” – their service? We thank them by paying them a VERY nice salary, complete with PLENTLY of opportunities for paid OT, and fantastic medical benefits that most in either the public or private sector rarely see. These folks aren’t the Little Sisters of the Poor – they are often the most highly paid “professionals” in the city. So, direct the platitudes elsewhere, imho

Tysen Canevari November 11, 2021 at 12:50 pm

I think the point people are trying to make is that if we are short staffed then why do we see numerous officers at a construction site. Many of my friends are officers. I have no problem with you taking a break or eating your lunch, or calling home but not constantly. Remember, overtime on a costruction site is a privilege not a necessity. There are some officers that do a great job. They outfitted their own cars and get out and direct traffic and help people with detours and there are a some that don’t help at all. I believe that is where a lot of people get uptight. The union says you make Norwalk money but I don’t think anyone cares. It’s a bad look. I am fond of the Norwalk Police and Fire and it is a benefit of living here but let’s be sensible.

Jo Bennett November 12, 2021 at 8:52 am

If there’s an officer shortage, these employees should be focused on doing the work that we as taxpayers pay them to do – protecting and serving, not standing around roadwork sites. It’s a simple matter of prioritizing demand with the supply we have, no? I believe in unions, but this is a farce.

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