The Day – New London Police raise safety concerns over return of Sailfest

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New London – Citing staffing issues, the New London Police Union has called on the city to cancel the planned return of Sailfest this year.

The union, in a letter to Mayor Michael Passero and other city officials, argues that department staff numbers have fallen to a near-record low of 59 sworn officers, and that other departments that typically provide aid mutual fund for the event suffer from similar staffing issues.

“The New London Police Union would like to express to the city and its administration that the police service does not have the personnel necessary to support an event of this size to ensure the safety of the public and its officers,” reads -on in the letter.

The letter is signed by union president Joshua Bergeson and vice president David Diogo. The undated letter was shared with The Day on Thursday. Bergeson did not immediately return a request for comment.

City officials, including Passero and Police Chief Brian Wright, aren’t discounting concerns about the department’s workforce, but say Sailfest wouldn’t move forward if it didn’t. there was no confidence in holding a safe event.

Sailfest is set to return this year after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The three-day event typically draws between 200,000 and 300,000 people to the city’s waterfront and downtown, with the largest crowds usually turning up on Saturday evening for the fireworks display. The event is scheduled to take place from July 8-10 this year.

The union says in its letter that the police department is responsible for three separate operations during the event: normal patrol operations, traffic and downtown sites. The department uses all available personnel to cover the various shifts and tasks. Officers are working 4-8 p.m. shifts during the event, the union said.

“Our collective agreement does not allow officers to work more than 16 hours, except in an emergency. The city administration cannot continue to call Sailfest an emergency when it is planned months in advance,” argues the union letter.

The union predicts a stalemate after the weekend fireworks and slower response times for services, such as ambulances, in New London and surrounding towns due to lack of manpower.

The letter goes on to list a host of serious incidents over the years, including shootings in the city in 2018 and 2019 and numerous fights and unrest.

“We appreciate their concerns, but we disagree,” Passero said of the union’s argument. “We’re going to have a safe event, and we wouldn’t be having Sailfest if we didn’t think it would be safe.”

Sailfest is sponsored by the Downtown New London Association in partnership with the city.

In addition to New London police, Passero said the city relies on an extensive network of agencies — law enforcement and others — to help with the festivities. These organizations include the Department of Homeland Security, United States Navy, Connecticut State Police, FBI, American Red Cross, United States Coast Guard, and city police and fire department personnel. neighbours.

Passero said he isn’t overlooking workforce concerns and the city has been aggressively seeking new officers to deal with retirements over the past year.

“We have full confidence in the chef and in his opinion that we are ready for the task,” Passero said.

Chef Wright said Sailfest, like any other major event, is “a big and very heavy undertaking” and that planning is key to creating a safe event.

“Fortunately, it’s an annual event, so we’re constantly learning from previous years,” he said.

After each Sailfest, Wright said, there are internal and external debriefing sessions to discuss and identify “what worked and what didn’t in order to improve our operations for future Sailfest events.”

“We will use and take full advantage of everything we have learned from past Sailfest events to navigate a safe event this year,” Wright said in a written response to questions.

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