Saybrook police panel explains revamp vote

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 22, 2008

OLD SAYBROOK — The Police Commission is moving forward with a full-scale restructuring of the Police Department’s hierarchy.

Commissioners, who have been discussing the move for months, voted at their regular meeting this week to return to a system that includes a deputy police chief.

The top-ranking department officers are Chief Edmund Mosca and lieutenants Timothy McDonald, Adam Stuart and Michael Spera. There has been no second-in-command since former Deputy Chief Thomas O’Brien retired about four years ago.

The changes — which include adding three patrol sergeants, for a total of five — will help the department ensure that all shifts have a supervisor and all officers know who they report to, Commission Chairwoman Christina Burnham said.

“There was not a clear chain of command, and if the chief needed somebody to step in or fill in while he was away, he needed to specially appoint someone,” Burnham said. “We need some consistency in supervision so the lines of command are clear.”

The motions to rework the positions passed by a vote of 5-2, with Commissioners Richard Metsack and Raymond Dobratz voting against the move.

Metsack said he would prefer to stay with the four-lieutenant system for now. The department’s structure calls for four lieutenants, but only three of the positions are filled.

Metsack and Dobratz, along with Commissioner David Gallicchio, also challenged the majority vote, which does not require the new deputy chief to hold a bachelor’s degree. Several commissioners said experience is as or more important than a college education for effective policing.

The commission voted to set a timeline for filling the new position. Applicants must send a letter of interest by May 30, with commissioners conducting interviews and choosing the deputy chief in June. Because the department is not planning to hire additional personnel, commissioners noted that the new deputy chief will likely be promoted from within the ranks.

Burnham noted that the move will not have a budgetary impact, since the department pays patrol officers extra when they cover unsupervised shifts. The deputy chief’s annual salary will be about $88,000, including overtime.

The meeting drew about 50 people. Several of those who spoke during the public comments portion supported the commission and Mosca, but also saw the value of the department’s higher-ups having a college degree.

“I’m very proud of our Police Department and feel very well protected and I thank you for your service,” Mary Meotti said. “I firmly believe that higher education would only benefit our Police Department.”

Some speakers suggested the commission require the new deputy chief to complete a college degree within a certain period of time.

The Police Commission has seen full meetings in recent months as questions have arisen about Mosca’s use of the McMurray-Kirtland Memorial Fund, which the chief has used for police expenses since the 1970s. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is investigating the use of the fund and its tax status.

The commission did not discuss the fund at Monday’s meeting. Burnham has said in the past she believes they should take a wait-and-see approach until Blumenthal completes his investigation.

But she noted at the beginning of Monday’s meeting that the commission has added an additional time for public input at the end of its agenda in response to previous requests from speakers.

Burnham said the commission decided to move on the organizational changes now because it has been discussing the move for two years and has set up a test in June for officers interested in being promoted to sergeant. She said the prospective test-takers deserve to have all relevant information.

But Mary Hansen, a resident who frequents commission meetings, said she thinks the action is unnecessary. “Why we’re even considering doing anything internally with the Police Department when there’s an investigation going on, I think it’s a little premature,” she said.

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