The police department is mulling changes to its organizational structure that would eliminate a sergeant position but add a new third lieutenant to the agency with the potential for more commanders in the future, Police Chief Michael Kehoe said.
The change has been long in coming, he said.
“Our two lieutenants are being stretched thin – there’s way too much work for them,” Kehoe said. “We were understaffed in the command structure.”
At the moment, the department has two lieutenants, George Sinko and Chris Vanghele, who, in addition to Kehoe and Capt. Joe Rios, are considered the only ones with managerial authority.
The department is budgeted for eight sergeants, although with the departure of Domenic Costello, , the agency has been operating with seven sergeants for more than a year.
Kehoe’s plan is to discard the eighth sergeant slot, and promote one of the seven existing sergeants to a lieutenant. The three lieutenants then would be reorganized to supervise one of three broad categories, patrol and operations; administrative; and technical services, including the detective division.
During a Police Commission meeting in September during which the proposed re-organization was approved, one of the members, Brian Budd, said it was "unbelievable" the department only had two lieutenants and that he believed there should be four, based on his experience with another police department, according to the meeting minutes.
The chief already has begun making changes, including re-assigning the sergeant who had headed up the detective division to patrol and operations.
Kehoe said that it didn’t make sense to have a sergeant supervising the detective division because a lieutenant still had to have oversight. The department had a lieutenant in charge of the detective division up until 2001 when a sergeant was assigned to the post, so the change in a sense was a return to that set-up, he said.
In proposing the change, Kehoe said he was met with some resistance from the police union, which he said earlier this week had placed the plan on hold.
However, Scott Ruszczyk, the president of the Newtown police union, said he had told Kehoe that lawyers had advised the union its members had no standing in objecting to the reorganizational plan.
“The union doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Ruszczyk said of the chief’s comments about the plan being placed on hold.
Ruszczyk said the chief has described the change – namely the disappearance of the eighth sergeant slot – as a decision to “not fund” the position rather than an elimination, which, due to the wording, has left the union with little standing to file a grievance.
The union asked for two concessions to which Kehoe was not willing to agree, namely that if there were to be three lieutenants, they would have the ability to choose their schedule based on their seniority, and secondly, out of the two sergeants eligible for the lieutenant promotion, the one who did not receive the promotion would have the pick of sergeant schedules, Ruszczyk said.
Under the department’s set-up, all sworn personnel with the exception of Kehoe and Rios are members of the union.
Kehoe said earlier this week he wanted to reserve the right to determine who to assign which lieutenant slot – patrol and operations, administrative or technical services – with each job requiring a different schedule and set of skills. Because he did not know who would receive the lieutenant promotion – the Police Commission must approve the promotion – he did not want to make any commitments.
“The assignment they receive will be in my best judgment,” Kehoe said of the lieutenants.
Only two sergeants qualify for the lieutenant promotion because they were the runner-ups last year when .
A lieutenant promotion also likely will be followed by a sergeant promotion, which will likely require a new round of testing because the list of runner-ups from which last year is close to its expiration date.
Kehoe said that while the immediate plan is to add a third lieutenant, he can forsee a fourth one in the future.
It was unknown what the financial ramifications would be for next fiscal year. The department is likely to have enough money in its budget to fund the third lieutenant, at least for this year, because the open sergeant slot had been left unfilled for quite some time.
Editor's note: Also attached to this article are two documents. The first one discusses staffing levels at the police department while the second one details the department's 2010 activity.