NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Police Department is “still under the gun” for manpower, said Lt. David O’Connor, police union president. Progress is being made, but it’s an uphill battle.
According to Norwalk Police Deputy Chief James Walsh, NPD has 170 sworn officers now, up from 166 in November, when it was described as “having some serious staffing issues.” The department is authorized for 181 officers. One officer is on administrative leave and eight are out on workmen’s compensation, compared to 11 officers on workmen’s compensation and three officers now on light duty on Oct. 31.
While that sounds like improvement, there’s an uptick in retirements and resignations. Seven of the sworn officers are in the academy and won’t be available for independent patrol duty for at least a year.
Unless there are “lateral transfers” – experienced police officers coming from other departments – the numbers increase won’t be enough to relieve the burden that’s driving some officers to resign: the demand for manpower that’s beginning about now and will last into September, O’Connor said.
Walsh said the department is “screening several lateral transfer officers for immediate hire pending successful background investigations.” There’s also a potential “three comparative officers from out of state,” pending approval from the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST).
“Some of the laterals are applying but not taking the job when push comes to shove, and we don’t know exactly why that is. I don’t know; I have no idea why,” O’Connor said.
It could be that they found a better opportunity, saw something about NPD that they didn’t like, or just decided to stay where they are. Or, Norwalk’s geographic location in the “corner” of the state might be the issue, or maybe they got offered more money elsewhere.
Another problem: “A lot of people” will exit next year “because their retirement plan kicks in and they must leave,” O’Connor said.
“I think that we’re in a tough spot,” O’Connor said. “A couple of years from now we may be able to dig ourselves out of the hole, but right now we’re in a tough spot.”
Three Rs: resignation, recruitment, retirement
Walsh agreed that progress is being made.
“We have reserved five seats for the June Academy. We are vigorously conducting several background investigations to fill those seats with officers pending successful completion of our background process,” Walsh said.
In December, Walsh said the department hoped to fill six academy seats. Two officers were hired.
The City isn’t lowering its standards to get more officers in the department, O’Connor said.
Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik provided this sworn officer personnel information:
- 2022: Four resignations and three retirements so far
- 2021: 13 resignations and five retirements
- 2020: No resignations and five retirements
- 2019: No resignations and two retirements
- 2018: No resignations and two retirements
So where have all the officers gone?
“Some resigned or retired due to personal reasons. One left to join the FBI and one left to take a police job in Florida,” Kulhawik said. “Most left the profession entirely.”
Kulhawik said COVID, mandatory overtime due to staff shortages, and the added scrutiny and liability brought about by the Accountability Act may be among the reasons for officers leaving.
Four recent resignations were due to disciplinary issues; POST has decertified four Connecticut officers this year and three were from Norwalk. The department hasn’t had any officers decertified since at least 2007.
Former Norwalk Police Officer Taranjit Singh “used his badge to pressure multiple young women into sharing their phone numbers,” according to The Hour. Officers Michael DiMeglio and Sarah Laudano were also decertified; the pair resigned recently due to their arrests after being caught in a hotel together while on duty.
Edgar Gonzalez resigned in June due to NPD suspicions, a news release said. He was charged with forgery and computer crime in February after allegedly filing false reports while serving Norwalk.
O’Connor said two officers who had desk jobs retired rather than go on patrol due to manpower shortages.
“These are things that are going to happen no matter what,” O’Connor said. “People are going to leave no matter what. It’s just the reason why they’re leaving in such large numbers.”
Kulhawik said, “I think it is a combination of factors that caused this including COVID, the Accountability Bill and other things that were perceived negative for law enforcement. With staffing shortages and more shifts needing to be covered by ordering officers to stay, this may also have played a part.”
“It’s getting harder and harder to find people, because as the job becomes more complex, people are less willing to get involved in, let’s call it ‘the social work aspect’ of it,” O’Connor said.
Like Kulhawik, he cited the Accountability Bill as a factor.
“It used to be people wanted this job. Now very few want this job,” O’Connor said, referencing body cameras and cameras in the car, subjecting police officers to having “their every move and utterance scrutinized” while they are dealing with upset people, sometimes folks who are mentally ill or psychotic.
While “I understand the community wants to see what we’re doing,” it “gets to the point that the Big Brother is watching,” and, “It’s a circular argument,” O’Connor said. “We’re having a hard time getting people in because of police accountability. So the people who are being worked harder and more time is being taken from them.”
A young policewoman, a single mother, recently had to choose between attending her son’s first T-ball game and following an order to come into work, O’Connor said. She chose motherhood and is facing “significant disciplinary time.”
O’Connor said, “We’re not in the military, where this is your job, live it 24 hours a day. We all have families. We all have home life… You can’t expect that anyone is going to spend five months out of the year completely consumed by work to the to the abandonment of everything else. It just not possible.”
But, he said, “I don’t think we’re different than any other police department… certainly in Connecticut, but probably from coast to coast are having the exact same issues we’re having. It’s just it’s the times we’re in.”