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At its Jan. 25 meeting, and at the urging of the Board of Selectmen, the Old Saybrook Police Commission requested Chief of Police Michael Spera to create a public document detailing turnover among sworn officers in the department, in the wake of a CT Examiner article on that subject. The commission rejected my request to concurrently look into recent criticisms of the chief from former officers in the department.
It is worthwhile to look at the broad question of turnover in the Old Saybrook Police Department (OSPD). But it is also necessary to look at the possibly narrower question: Why did at least three successful and experienced officers choose to leave the OSPD, all citing disagreements with the chief as the reason? Upon examination, they may have sufficiently differing reasons as to negate any inference that there is something endemic we should be concerned about. But even if their reasons may differ in emphasis from one to another, there still may be symptoms of something that ought to concern the commission.
For example, the CT Examiner article cites unhappiness with what were perceived to be unlawful orders by the chief. That ought to concern the commission greatly, even without a formal complaint to act upon, which Chairman Frank Keeney seemed to want. Both the article and former OSPD sergeant William Bergantino’s letter to the commission cite a “toxic” environment. What does that mean? The chief says he has high standards. Might that be perceived by his subordinates as overbearing interference? Or an overly aggressive approach to small town policing? Or a demeaning treatment of subordinates who dare to think for themselves?
The commission needs to examine what issues might underlie these internal complaints, and not bury them under the rubric of a generic “turnover” study.
Alfred “Chub” Wilcox
Democrat Alfred “Chub” Wilcox serves on the Old Saybrook Police Commission.