Why does Wilton have so many police officers?
The most frequent questions First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said she hears from Wilton residents is — when is my road going to be paved, and why does the town have so many police officers.
To answer the second question, Wilton Police Chief John Lynch explained the police department’s staffing with the Board of Selectmen at a meeting on Dec. 2.
Overseen by the chief, the police department has 44 members:
25 patrol officers;
2 school resource officers;
1 records officer;
1 training officer;
1 administrative sergeant;
1 lieutenant detective;
2 patrol lieutenants;
Lynch said the police department operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has 30 officers (25 patrol officers and five sergeants) dedicated to patrol functions. There is a minimum of three patrol officers per shift along with one sergeant. There is also a minimum of one officer per shift in the dispatch/public access window, for a total of five officers per shift.
“Safety is the department’s top concern, and Wilton is an incredibly safe town. I would say we are the best department in the area,” said Lynch.
With Route 7 cutting through the town, Wilton has a high call volume. In addition to monitoring roadways and commercial and residential areas, the department’s patrol staff responded to a varied number of calls in 2018, including 4,308 traffic stops, 1,650 alarms, 1,149 EMS assists, 970 calls to check a problem in a designated location, 678 motor vehicle accident investigations, and 519 road closures due to trees down.
In addition, there were 365 assist resident calls, 301 fire department assists, 130 narcotic investigations, 100 larceny investigations, 80 burglary investigations, 82 domestic disputes, 65 critical response - mental health incidents, 43 DUI investigations, 29 criminal mischief investigations, 15 breach of peace and assaults, nine civil investigations, and a number of identity theft investigations.
Patrol officers are also first responders and respond to all ambulance calls.
The chief distributed a chart that shows in 1972, Wilton had 29 officers with a population of 13,572 and an average daily traffic count of 18,500 passing through Wilton on Route 7 to the Norwalk line.
The number of officers increased over the years as the population and average daily traffic count has increased.
Fast forward to 2018, Wilton’s population has grown to 18,397, with an average daily traffic count of 29,600 passing through Wilton on Route 7 to the Norwalk line.
“The daytime population in Wilton is much different. We are considered a bedroom community, and during the day there are an extra 20,000-plus people driving through town as well as businesses that add to the population,” Lynch said.
Some police calls, such as motor vehicle accidents or domestic disputes, can tie up two or three officers for a number of hours, the chief explained. “Our primary concern is covering the town,” he said.
In addition to patrol, the department has a number of officers that handle administration and additional law enforcement duties.
Two school resource officers are dedicated to Wilton schools, where they provide officer-friendly interaction with students, teach classes, and investigate bullying and juvenile crimes.
Detectives conduct investigations into serious matters including burglary and larceny complaints, internet crimes, and identity theft. They also assist with pistol permits and employee background investigations.
Captains handle administrative responsibilities for the department including records and communications, shift/vacation/holiday scheduling, payroll, internal affairs, and worker’s compensation.
Two of the lieutenants are patrol division commanders — one for days and midnights, the other for evenings. They handle case file management and daily scheduling changes.
The other lieutenant serves as the detective division commander, and is the department’s public information officer.
The training officer handles training for the officers and assists with recruitment, arranging promotional exams, and is the field training coordinator.
The records officer manages the department’s records.
Officers also engage in community policing, special services and proactive services, including emrgency training for public and private schools, businesses, and religious insitutions. They conduct Citizen Police Academies and offer senior citizen and crime prevention programs.
Wilton is on par with police staffing in nearby Ridgefield and New Canaan, according to Lynch.
Ridgefield is authorized for 44 officers, the same number as Wilton, according to Lynch. But that department is currently operating with a 41-member staff. He said Ridgefield had a hiring freeze, but expects to hire a 42nd officer in January.
New Canaan has a 47-member police department. “New Canaan has a larger police force without having a Route 7,” Vanderslice said.
Wilton is not running at full capacity and is operating with 40 officers now, with one being in the police academy for training. The department is currently looking to hire additional officers, Lynch said.
Selectwoman Deb McFadden said she thought it was important for the public to have an understanding about what the police officers are doing as the town contemplates either renovating the existing police station or constructing a new one.
Vanderslice said she hears from people “that we don’t have a lot of crime in Wilton.” She said that’s not true, however, “the town is safe and we have to have the staffing to make sure it stays safe,” she said.
Selectman Ross Tartell, who is new to the board, asked about police overtime.
Lynch said the department is currently short a school resource officer, but the position will be filled in April when patrol officer Elise Ackerman takes over that position. The department is also short a detective and a dispatcher, which will cause some overtime covering basic patrol.
Lynch said at this time, police overtime is less than it was this same time last year, but will likely go up. He said he expects to be short seven officers for a good portion of the spring with some going out on medical leave.
Vanderslice pointed out there has been savings every year in the police labor budget, so even though the department has had to use overtime to fill a vacancy, the cost of the overtime did not exceed the labor and benefits that would have otherwise been paid.