OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s Police Commission voted 6 to 1 on Monday night to ask Chief of Police Michael Spera to compile a public report on the number of officers who have left the police department in the past 11 years.
The request was in response to a Jan. 12 letter from the Old Saybrook Board of Selectmen requesting that Spera produce a document providing the sworn personnel who have left the department, the length of time they remained and the reasons they provided for leaving. The selectmen asked that the document include officers’ exit interviews and any other relevant documents.
In the letter, the Board of Selectmen counted 32 officers who had left the police commission during Spera’s tenure as chief of police, which began in 2009.
Police Commission Chairman Frank Keeney noted that this would be the third time the commission has received information about turnover — once in the spring of 2019 with Town Attorney Patrick McHale, and then in October from Spera. The two prior occasions took place in executive session.
Commissioner Alfred Wilcox objected to the idea of having Spera look into the turnover in the department on his own. He suggested that the commission form a subcommittee of three people who would interview the officers that had left. He suggested that the committee be made up of Keeney, Commissioner Susan Quish and himself, and that they hire independent legal counsel.
“For this investigation to have any credibility,” said Wilcox, “We have to interview the people who have voiced their concerns already, and others who might be identified in the process.”
Wilcox later told CT Examiner that he would also like to interview some current officers to better understand the current atmosphere in the department. He said he was concerned with relying solely on exit interviews, since many prior officers had declined to give them.
At the meeting, Vice Chairman Ken Reid said he agreed with Wilcox that the commission should create a subcommittee and speak to current officers. However, he objected to having Wilcox on the subcommittee, saying that Wilcox seemed to have a “personality conflict” with Spera. He offered himself as a potential subcommittee member, saying that officers might feel more comfortable speaking with someone with experience in law enforcement.
Quish said that she didn’t understand why the commission needed to speak with former officers when they already had exit interviews and personnel files.
“What would be the purpose of giving them voices years later?” she asked.
Commissioner Renee Shippee said she thought the interviews should not just be limited to sworn officers, but also dispatchers.
Keeney, however, said he believed they should limit the vote to the request by the Board of Selectmen. The commission voted 6 to 1, with Reid voting in dissent, to ask Spera to produce a report on turnover, to be presented to the commission on March 22.
Wilcox and Shippee said that they hoped this report would only be the first step in a larger investigation.
Spera reiterated that turnover happens for many reasons — people change jobs to advance their careers, or find a job with better benefits.
“I think we have to take away the negativity around the word ‘turnover,’” he said.
Spera said his goal would be to beat the March 22 deadline.
Keeney also clarified some concerns from the Jan. 11 meeting.
Keeney explained that Spera had given the commission a detailed report and explained the formula for calculating the number of staff necessary for the Old Saybrook police department after a local resident suggested that there had been an error in the calculation.
“The commission is confident that the calculations are correct,” said Keeney.
Keeney also said he spoke with Thomas Hennick, public education officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission, about the votes taken during the Jan. 11 budget meeting on items not explicitly included on the meeting agenda.
Keeney said that Hennick confirmed that voting on the chief’s proposals to eliminate step salaries, to consider having a social worker accompany officers on calls and to engage in a public relation campaign for Old Saybrook was acceptable under the law.
Keeney also said that he recognized that not enough information was provided on the agenda explaining the use of executive session.
“I will make sure that does not happen again,” he said.