OLD SAYBROOK — The Police Commission voted in favor of an organizational climate study for the town’s police department on Monday, but placed their support behind a different firm than the one originally recommended by the Board of Selectmen.
Before making any salary increases, bonuses or changes in benefits for police department employees — a move that Chief Michael Spera recommended in July as a way of reducing officer turnover rates — Fortuna told the board that he wanted to ensure the changes would solve the retention problem.
“When you’re talking about basically an upheaval in terms of what we are talking about, in terms of negotiation, there can be no better time in my opinion to just say, ‘let’s take a look’,” Fortuna told the commission.
Fortuna said he had negotiated “side by side” with Spera for multiple contracts, and that he relied on both legal counsel and advice from the police chief while at the bargaining table. Fortuna added that the decision to undertake a study was in no way “retaliatory” against Spera.
Fortuna said CLAConnect was already conducting an $80,000 organizational study on Town Hall, and that the town had a good experience with them.
“We’ve used them in the past. They are a national, international, reputable firm,” he said. “They’re consultants through and through.”
But Police Commission members, while in agreement with Fortuna about the need for a study, disagreed about which firm should carry it out.
Commission Chair Alfred Wilcox said another organization that had responded to the town’s request for proposals — the Police Executive Research Forum — would be better able to provide the in-depth study.
“The PERF proposal gives us a top-to-bottom review of our department by an organization that I’ve come to recognize as one of the leading, if not the leading, national leader in advising police departments with a broader focus on critiquing management,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox said he was impressed with the proposed study’s methodology, which includes interviewing Fortuna, commission members, Spera, officers, staff at all levels of the police department, and former officers who had left the department in the last three years. He also quoted a line from the proposal that noted the study’s emphasis on the “history and culture” of the department, “as well as its employees’ views of its strengths and weaknesses.”
While he noted the price difference — PERF charged $99,000 for the study, while CLAConnect placed the cost at between $35,000 and $42,000 — Wilcox said the CLAConnect price was almost certain to increase because it estimated only the first part of a two-part study, and did not include travel time or travel expenses.
Commissioner Jill Notar-Francesco agreed.
“[PERF] is geared toward policing, and they know best practices in policing,” said Notar-Francesco, adding that the study would not only be sensitive and supportive to department personnel, but it would also compare benefits and salaries to other local police departments.
She also noted that the firm would offer guidance for implementing immediate change in the department.
“Not change in six months or nine months. Immediate change,” Notar-Francesco said.
Commissioner Jessica Calle said the credentials of the investigators — which include a retired police major and director of emergency management, a former county and state prosecutor, and a retired lieutenant colonel/deputy chief of patrol, would inspire confidence in the study’s validity.
“I want to be able to eliminate any and all possible threats to the credibility of this study,” Calle said. “My goal would be to have the most respected, experienced, credible law enforcement research and … deep dive into our OSPD. If we can do it, if we can afford to do that, it’s going to answer so many questions.”
Fortuna responded he was not in disagreement with the commissioners, and that the Board of Selectmen would not be offended by the Police Commission’s recommendation.
“I may have gotten a little bit sticker-shocked, to be honest with you, on the proposal and thinking that the work could get done for a more modest price,” said Fortuna, adding that PERF was “an incredible organization.”
Neither Spera nor the two Republican commission members were present at the Monday meeting, but Spera later told CT Examiner that the discussion should focus on the “safety and prosperity” of members of the police department and should not be “politically driven.”
“With no fault of anyone in Old Saybrook, the law enforcement labor market has dramatically changed over the past few years,” Spera wrote. “If Old Saybrook wants to address its recruitment and retention problem it must increase pay, benefits, and post-employment benefits to stay competitive. My call to action, that was endorsed by the Police Commission, was to follow in the footsteps of many communities to do just that without delay, our police department employees deserve nothing less.”
The recommendation will now go before the Board of Finance.