Regarding the police referendum
To the Citizens of Bethel,
There is a great deal of mis-information circulating regarding the referendum question concerning the Police Department to be voted on June 8, and it is important that voters know the facts before heading to the polls.
Voters will be given a ballot with 2 choices: Option 1 is to keep the Bethel Police Department and appropriate $453,796 to pay for its operation; Option 2 is to reaffirm the vote of February 9, authorize the Selectmen to contract with the Sheriff’s Office for dedicated 24/7 law enforcement coverage, appropriate $295,000 to pay the contract, $8,000 for animal control, and amend the Town Ordinances to allow for some flexibility with the Police Department.
Previous letters to the editor accused the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee of proposing a “Cadillac” police department to inflate the costs of keeping the BPD in order to manipulate the vote. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Board evaluated several proposals submitted by the Town Manager and the Police Department. One proposal, maintaining the status quo, was quickly rejected. One thing both sides agreed on at the Special Town Meeting was that the current system does not work to the best advantage of the town and should be improved. The Selectmen considered maintaining current staffing levels, but increasing pay and benefits, and, finally, we considered several different staffing and wage scenarios. After much study and debate, the Selectmen unanimously voted to propose a department that consists of 6 full time, academy trained officers, and no reserve officers. 6 full-time academy trained officers are the minimum needed to staff a Police Department without using reserves to cover sick days and vacation time. Under state law, the only training required for a reserve officer is 100 hours of training in basic law enforcement. An academy trained officer completes 18-weeks of intense training covering crime scene investigation, handling domestic violence situations, civil rights issues, police ethics, use of force, and case preparation to name just a few. The Sheriff’s proposal includes 3 academy-trained deputies dedicated to the town. The reason they can do it with fewer people is that the Sheriff’s Office has other deputies that will be directed to cover Bethel when “our” deputies are unavailable. In order to provide “24/7” law enforcement coverage comparable to what the Sheriff’s Office could provide, which is service with academy-trained officers, the Town of Bethel would need 6 full time officers. In order to limit the excessive turn-over in trained officers we have seen in the past, the Selectmen voted to raise salaries and benefits to be on par with the average of what area town’s offer.
Both the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee recommend Option 2, contract with the Sheriff’s Office.
Chair, Board of Selectmen