Middletown to add 2 officers to understaffed department: Why it was debated

Middletown City Council Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020 accepted a $250,000 federal COPS grant to help in the hiring of two additional patrol officers. The Division of Police is understaffed and is expecting another seven to eight officers to retire in the next year. Nick Graham/Staff
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Middletown City Council Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020 accepted a $250,000 federal COPS grant to help in the hiring of two additional patrol officers. The Division of Police is understaffed and is expecting another seven to eight officers to retire in the next year. Nick Graham/Staff

Middletown will hire two police officers using a grant that members studied closer because it will cost the city more money in the future.

The federal COPS grant will add officers for community oriented policing to augment the city’s understaffed police department.

This funding will include 75% of salaries and benefits for the officers. The city’s obligations include paying 25% of the costs and retaining the officers for at least a fourth year after the three-year grant period ends.

Councilwoman Monica Nenni said there is a consensus on council that Middletown needs more officers.

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“Our department is understaffed and overworked,” she said. “At a time when revenues are down due to the pandemic, budgetary discretion is important.”

About two dozen police officers stood in the back of the Tuesdya meeting during the discussion and final vote to accept the grant.

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More officers are desperately needed, Birk said. In 1997, there were 93 sworn officers in Middletown. In 2020, there are 68. He is expecting seven to eight officers to retire by the end of 2021.

Birk said the city can save about $83,000 per officer with new hires to replace the departing senior staffers over the first five years. He said this will more than cover the cost of the city’s 25% portion for the two officers from the grant.

“I’m excited it passed and the community should be excited it passed,” Birk said.

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He said he will be interviewing candidates for the open position in the coming months and the grant starts on Jan. 1, 2021.

The federal COPS grant program provides funding directly to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies for hiring officers for three years to address specific crime problems through community policing strategies, according to the U.S. Justice Department.