Police maintain their focus in New Milford
Uncertainty in the New Milford Police Department precipitated by an unprecedented number of retirements this past month might not be visible to anyone outside the station.
Officers are still pulling cars over for speeding or driving while under the influence. Officers are still at the ready for the post haste calls to car crashes, neighborhood burglaries and drownings.
Detectives are still busy solving crimes, such as tying up the investigation into the hit-and-run death of a Danbury police officer killed on Route 7 as he bicycled to his midnight shift.
"The doors are going to stay open, and the cars will keep rolling,'' said Sgt. Larry Ash, the police union vice-president. "We still have the backbone of the agency, and things will go forward."
"The people here will step up to do whatever is necessary to provide professional service to the town,'' he said.
Police Chief Colin McCormack echoes that sentiment.
Yet the soon to retire chief hired to manage the transition until a new chief is appointed in October or November will not deny that losing seven officers -- three of them in the four-member administrative ranks -- poses a "challenge.''
The only administrator who did not retire was Lt. James Duda.
At this time, Chief McCormack is adjusting manpower to accommodate the lost positions.
The chief said he is considering a promotion to an administrative position, as well as a temporary administrative assignment.
In patrol, eight finalists are now vying for two positions. It is likely the background check and other testing required could take another six weeks. If the candidates have not yet completed the police academy, they would have to undergo about six months of training before about two months of department field training.
No decision has yet been made on replacing the high school resource officer, the chief said. He said manpower would dictate that decision.
Mayor Patricia Murphy and school leaders said they hope that will be a priority as soon as the department has adequate manpower.
Beyond the retirements, two other patrol officers are now on military leave.
The department has applied for a federal grant to fund two school resource officer posts: one at the high school and one at the middle school. The middle school job, funded by the school system for the last half of the year, is not included in the 2010-11 police budget.
Despite the adjustments, McCormack said this time in the department provides some unique opportunities for "other folks to move into new roles.''
"And it gives a flexibility to the new CEO (chief executive officer) of the department a chance to shape and direct how (he or she) wants the agency to proceed,'' said Chief McCormack.
He noted he remains mindful in this transition that a new chief may want to create a different structure than what currently exists.
The mayor characterized the department as in "mostly a staying pattern.''
As for possible future changes, Mayor Murphy said the new chief will be able to assemble his or her own administrative team that she expects could open up promotional opportunities that would then lead to an even stronger blend of new and veteran patrol officers.
She said she expects there will continue to be a deputy chief, but rather than one captain she said there might be two or three lieutenants, depending on duties the new chief would want to assign.
The mayor expects the new chief would do a thorough department review before determining exactly what positions must be filled.
During the interim, Mayor Murphy said, "I have complete confidence in their (department officers) ability to perform their mission.''
Sgt. Ash assessed the officers' attitude as one of determination to keep moving ahead.
"We'll adapt, and we'll meet the challenges,'' he concluded.