OLD SAYBROOK — Residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of hiring the Police Executive Research Forum to perform an organizational climate study of the town’s police department.
The Monday referendum, which approved hiring PERF in a 705-74 vote, sets aside about $100,000 for the contract.
The climate study was requested by First Selectman Carl Fortuna in response to high turnover rates and ongoing staffing shortages at the police department. Chief Michael Spera, who has opposed the study, suggested the shortages were the result of low pay and benefits for officers, and recommended that the town invest in raising officers salaries, increasing pensions and offering hiring bonuses, among other things.
But Fortuna responded that he wanted to ensure these changes would fix the recruitment and retention problems, before investing a large sum of money into benefits.
“Attraction and retention of police officers in today’s world is especially challenging, something Chief Spera has highlighted over the last few months,” Fortuna told CT Examiner on Tuesday. “I am hopeful that the PERF study will assist the town in this area so that we can maintain a strong local force for the next 20 years.”
The town’s Police Commission selected PERF out of three potential organizations, citing the extensive experience its investigators had working with police departments and the judicial system, along with the organization’s focus on the department’s culture, as well as positive and negative aspects.
PERF’s proposal includes interviews with department staff, police commissioners, town officials and former Old Saybrook police officers, along with reviewing previous department reports on staffing and recruitment, evaluating the department’s hiring process and to benchmark pay and benefits against comparable Connecticut towns.
In a statement, Police Commission Chair Alfred “Chub” Wilcox thanked the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen for supporting the commission’s recommendation to hire PERF.
“I’m very pleased to see the voters so overwhelmingly in favor of this initiative to support the Old Saybrook Department of Police Services in being the best it can be,” he said.