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As state funds dwindle and municipalities watch their budgets and reserves, some town departments have increased efforts to save money and maximize existing resources. For police, that means a return to a more regional approach, reaching across town lines to share officers and resources.
The idea of regionalization, while in the works for several years, was brought up at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting. Al Goldberg, who serves as liaison to the Madison Board of Police Commissioners, said commissioners engaged in a far-reaching discussion about the future of regionalism on the shoreline in terms of sharing police services, department assets, and ways of expanding on current working relationships.
“While there is no specific active discussion going on at the moment, it is believed that due to state policy, due to state budget cutbacks, and due to increasing receptivity on the part of various towns along the shoreline, that such discussions about combining the effort of various police forces along the shoreline might indeed happen,” he said.
Goldberg said that the word “regionalism” has a somewhat negative connotation in the state. When Connecticut did away with the county system several decades ago in favor of “home rule”—meaning all decisions are made at the town level—Goldberg said people are now reluctant to give up a sense of control. However, Goldberg said there are lots of ways for police departments to work together without losing autonomy.
“There are certain current sharing programs in place and they are called mutual assistance pacts and so for example with the manhunt here in Madison, the Madison police called on Clinton and Guilford and other departments to come to their aid and those agencies did respond,” he said.
Moving forward, Goldberg said next steps to share or regionalize certain items might include things like joint purchasing agreements to help hold down the cost of equipment or even a shared dispatch center.
“These are not new ideas, but what I sense is there is suddenly a much greater receptiveness to talking about it, and I think that is due to ever-more stretched finances and I think it’s also due to a lessening of the attitude of home rule,” said Goldberg. “To me that is what makes it possible for these things to be considered and I can’t help but applaud [Madison Police] Chief [Jack] Drumm for being open and willing to consider it.”
For Drumm, the idea of regionalizing isn’t new or alarming, it’s a practical necessity. Officer numbers are down—in 1992, the population in Madison was 15,858 and the department had 32 police officers; now the population has topped 18,000 and the number of officers has dropped. He said when it comes to budgeting for the department, he said he predicates all requests on a need, not a wish, and if some resources can be shared across police departments, it helps hold down the need.
“There are regional school systems that work very well and very effectively and everyone has a seat at the table,” Drumm said. “We do this with...a whole host of other functions, we share probate courts, we share landfills, we share town dumps, so why is it so difficult? Everyone goes through the same training. If a teacher can teach in Madison, then a teacher can teach in Guilford. A police officer can do what he does in Madison and in Clinton. It is not that difficult—why do we lift the plow blade at the town line?”
The police department has already regionalized several operations over the last few years, including a regionalized animal control with Clinton and Westbrook, a shared gun range with Clinton, and an agreement that allows the Madison Police to use the Clinton Police boat.
“I don’t need a navy,” said Drumm. “I am happy with the Town of Clinton coming to respond plus our fire services, which respond. If I need to put a police officer on a boat, I can do it on our fireboat or Clinton’s boat, so what we do is very small; we contribute a little bit to the maintenance of their boat. “
The Madison and Clinton departments are also looking at sharing communications as Madison improves its Emergency Communications system in town. Additionally Drumm said there have been more discussions on day-to-day policing between the towns.
“I think probably by the time my time here is over, we will probably have regional policing between two communities here, maybe more,” he said.
Drumm said a regional approach to policing is part of a growing trend and he wants to be ready for changes down the road.
“The governor wants us to consolidate the public safety answering points and it is probably going to happen quicker than we think, so we are trying to get out ahead of it,” he said. “I use the saying, ‘I would rather pick who I’m having dinner with than be told who I am having dinner with’.”
Clinton Police Chief Vincent DeMaio agreed that the partnership has been beneficial for both towns, particularly in light of the drug crisis.
“It expands our reach greatly,” he said. “Especially with the opioid problem that we have seen throughout the state, it doesn’t rest in one particular jurisdiction, it is purchased somewhere, it’s used here or there, it’s sold at various locations, the crime that is associated with it in Guilford, Branford, Madison, Old Saybrook, Middletown, it’s not just confined, so it is really important that we do spend time working with one another having a cooperative relationship.”
Overall, DeMaio said the need to share resources and people is just a sign of the times.
“In this day and age, law enforcement is tasked with doing more and more with less and less funding so I don’t think any singular department has the available resources to complete the mission successfully on its own devices,” he said. “That is just the nature of cooperation and doing things together, pulling resources, pulling manpower, doing a lot of the things that allow us to execute the mission, which is public safety.”
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