Three officers have left the Milton Police Department in recent weeks, dropping the force from 10 to seven. And until a recently formed ad hoc committee has time to assess the manpower needs of the department, the police force numbers will not change.
Town council unanimously voted at its July 1 meeting to put in place a 90-day hiring moratorium to give the committee time to do its job. The committee meets for the first time at 6:30 p.m., Monday, July 8, at the Milton Public Library.
“I realize that until they can hire this may create a problem,” said Councilman John Collier, who proposed the hiring freeze. “The way I look at it is if somebody who's normally behind a desk has to come out of the office and go on patrol, then so be it. If coverages have to be shifted, then so be it.”
Of the three officers who recently vacated their positions, two were hired in Milford and the third will be working for the Harrington Police Department. Chief William Phillips said the department is also without another officer who is out on sick leave until the end of August.
Because Milton's department remains among the lowest paid officers in the state, the town usually attracts only new officers, meaning they need to complete training at the police academy before going on the road. The police academy takes several months to complete. Phillips said the next academy is likely to occur in September.
“If we don't start testing and doing everything now, then we won't make it,” he said.
The next academy could be anywhere from six months to a year later, Phillips said, depending on demand.
Council opted to give the committee a chance to take a look at the department.
“I would surely like to give them the opportunity to work with the chief to make sure that they come up with a plan for 24-hour coverage and assess their needs,” Mayor Marion Jones said. “It's a delicate balance of time.”
The department had as many as 11 officers last year, but a ballooning police budget concerned many members of town council. In February, officials voted to withdraw from a federal grant that paid for the salary and fringe benefits of one officer and opted to cap the police department at nine officers through attrition. An officer left shortly after the decision, quickly dropping the force to 10.
Officials also briefly considered tapping the International Association of Chiefs of Police to study the police department and its needs but they instead chose to form its own committee to do it at no cost to the town.
“This may be a win-win for everybody all around,” Collier said. “We may reduce the police budget with the right manpower and may be able to offer better salaries and enable the chief to … get certified officers and put them right out on the street.”