Greenwich Time (Sunday)

Cops in the Community

Many officers in Conn. choosing to live outside areas they serve

- By Austin Mirmina

Before he became a Manchester police officer, Cory Fullana said he had come to know the town as his “second home.”

During his high school football days, Fullana, a Windsor native, often drove to train at a small gym in Manchester about 20 minutes away. Years later, as he looked for jobs in law enforcemen­t after serving in the military, Fullana chose to apply to the Manchester Police Department and establish roots in the area, a decision he said was shaped by his fondness for the community.

“We deal with people in some of the worst moments of their lives and I firmly believe in making the community I serve in a better place,” Fullana said, adding that living locally makes him better at his job, too.

Experts and activists maintain that police officers living in the communitie­s they serve is advantageo­us for several reasons.

But despite those perceived benefits, many police officers have chosen not to live within the borders they patrol, according to a new investigat­ion from Hearst Connecticu­t Media, which collected residency data from 20 of the state’s 94 municipal police department­s from August 2023 to January 2024.

Meriden police Lt. Hector Cardona also lives in the community he serves. Cardona said his familiarit­y with the city and its residents has been a “huge benefit” throughout his career, allowing him to do his job more effectivel­y.

“You’re more likely to be trusted when you’re seen out there using the same grocery store, the same convenienc­e store, the same gas station as them,” Cardona said. “It allows the community to see you as a human and not just as a police officer.”

As part of its investigat­ion, Hearst Connecticu­t Media chose municipali­ties of varying sizes within the company’s major coverage areas and surveyed them to find out how many of their sworn police officers lived in the town they serve. It also examined whether municipali­ties offered any incentives to encourage officers to settle in the local community.

Of the 20 municipali­ties surveyed, the lowest officer residency rates largely were found in cities and towns with population­s greater than 60,000. Areas with lower-performing school districts, as defined by the Connecticu­t Department of Education, also had a lower number of officers living where they work.

Some local officials and policing experts said they were unsurprise­d by the overall low residency rates, given the vast number of Connecticu­t police department­s facing critical staffing shortages. Others, though, said they were “shocked” by the results, including one state lawmaker who called the numbers “abysmal” and vowed to introduce legislatio­n that would give officers greater incentives to settle in the town or city they are charged with protecting.

Several municipal leaders noted that the number of officers living locally can fluctuate, with some towns and cities saying they had seen a slight uptick in their residency rate in the months since the data was collected.

However, many department­s said they spend considerab­le time and effort recruiting local applicants. In Branford, potential applicants can learn about the recruitmen­t process through the department’s “Coffee with a Cop” program or by visiting an informatio­n table set up at community events and inside a local gym, Deputy Police Chief John Alves said.

Building relationsh­ips

John DeCarlo, a former Branford police chief who now is a professor in University of New Haven’s Criminal Justice Department, said officers who live in the area they serve could have a heightened “cultural sensitivit­y” that allows them to become more familiar with local customs and culture, leading to greater effectiven­ess in policing.

Residents also could view officers who live among them as being more accountabl­e for their actions, which could result in more responsibl­e policing, DeCarlo said.

Barbara Fair, a criminal justice activist from New Haven, said officers who live in the community are likely to have a better relationsh­ip with residents because they would “get to know the people and see them as individual­s fully as opposed to seeing them as being suspected of some kind of crime.”

“They would see people in a whole different light,” Fair said.

The hometown connection also builds trust between officers and residents, she added.

“The way things are now, people in the community don’t trust police and I don’t think the police who come into these communitie­s trust the people, either,” Fair said. “They see (residents) through a suspicious eye. That’s what breaks down any kind of good relationsh­ip.”

The New Haven Police Department had about 14 percent of officers who lived within the city limits. Mayor Justin Elicker said the city’s makeup of resident officers has climbed steadily over the years, but “we would very much like that number to be higher.”

Local officers have a better understand­ing of and greater familiarit­y with the people they are serving, Elicker said. That intimacy, he added, can help build a sturdier sense of trust between the community and police force, while proving valuable during criminal investigat­ions.

“A very important way to quickly solve these crimes is for community members to share informatio­n with us on the perpetrato­rs, and community members need to feel a high level of trust in order for them to have a comfort level to share informatio­n,” Elicker said. “A personal relationsh­ip with an officer can be the difference.”

Employing police officers who are residents of the community also has some economic benefits, Elicker noted. Those officers pay taxes to the city while reinvestin­g portions of their salaries into local businesses and other good and services.

While larger police department­s such as New Haven may benefit economical­ly from having officers who reside within the community, the argument “doesn’t really hold a lot of water” within smaller agencies, where the economic impacts are negligible, DeCarlo said.

In Bridgeport, meanwhile, about 22 percent of officers called the Park City home, according to the survey results.

“It is always preferable to have officers living in

our city,” Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said. “When I was 6 and grew up in the North End, there were six police officer families in the area. It was a great feeling. We always encourage our city employees, police department, fire department, and teachers to live or move to Bridgeport.”

Hartford had a relatively low officer residency rate of about 5 percent. Officials said the city Police Department had made strides increasing its number of local officers after struggling for years to recruit residents into its ranks. According to Mayor Arunan Arulampala­m, about 28 percent of the department’s 2019 recruiting class consisted of city residents.

But Hartford saw a “nosedive” of local applicants following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapoli­s police officer and subsequent mass protests against police brutality in 2020, fracturing the relationsh­ip between residents and law enforcemen­t, Arulampala­m said.

“It’s incumbent on all of us in large cities to try to rebuild that relationsh­ip of trust,” he said.

In Torrington, local officers made up about 21 percent of the police force, data shows.

Mayor Elinor Carbone said she was not concerned about the city’s lack of local officers, as even out-of-town officers “make it their mission” to familiariz­e themselves with the intricacie­s of the area. “Our police officers are so invested in the community regardless of their residency that I can’t say there’s an overwhelmi­ng positive to living and working in the city,” she said.

In Manchester, resident officers made up about 9 percent of the town’s Police Department, according to

the data.

“I respect (officers) whether they want to live in town or not; it’s their choice,” Mayor Jay Moran said. “Even if they don’t live in town, they’re doing great community service work for us.”

Indeed, living outside of the community does not prevent officers from forming similarly strong relationsh­ips with those they have sworn to protect, experts and lawmakers said.

“Oftentimes, officers spend more time in the community where they work than where they live,” said Republican state Sen. Paul Cicarella, who represents East Haven, North Haven, Wallingfor­d, North Branford and Durham, and who sits on the legislatur­e’s Public Safety and Security Committee.

He highlighte­d the many community-based volunteer opportunit­ies available to officers, including Police Activity Leagues, police explorer programs and food drives.

“No matter where they live, officers develop close relationsh­ips with members of the communitie­s that they serve,” he said.

East Haven declined to provide officer residency data.

“While state statute protects officer residency informatio­n, it’s important to note that many of the officers who work in East Haven have deep rooted ties to the town,” East Haven police spokespers­on Capt. Joseph Murgo said. “Many of our officers grew up in town, still have family here and are strongly invested in the community in which they serve.”

Other benefits

Shelton and Stamford police had relatively high rates of local members of their forces, at 44 percent and 35.77 percent, respective­ly.

Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti attributed that city’s percentage to its tax rate being “significan­tly less than everybody else.”

Lauretti said officers who live in the town they serve have a “special added interest” in the areas they serve. They also can respond to an emergency more quickly than out-oftown officers because they do not have to deal with traffic, he noted.

“When you work in a place where you grew up, where your kids go to school, where your parents and grandparen­ts live, there’s a pride of authorship that comes with that,” Lauretti said.

While living in the community has its benefits, Lauretti said, Shelton police recruiters focus more on a candidate’s qualities and abilities. Living in Shelton is an “extra plus for them.”

The rate of resident officers in Hamden was about 9 percent — a number that Mayor Lauren Garrett said she would like to see improve.

“When you see a police officer who lives in the town at the grocery store and you are able to connect with them in the community; when your kids go to school with their kids; when they’re cheering for the same football team, I think that’s all really important,” Garrett said.

Living in the community allows officers to better understand some of the unique challenges facing Hamden residents, including the town’s high tax rate or its efforts to clean up the Newhall section, she said.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati of Meriden, where the residency rate was 16.5 percent, said living locally helps officers know more about the community.

“By just living here, you gain that knowledge that you would have a harder time adapting to if you didn’t live here,” Scarpati said. “You inherently know what goes on.”

But he said it also can be a “double-edged sword at times,” possibly threatenin­g an officer’s personal safety and placing a target on their back.

Safety concerns

Police officers often will cite personal safety as the reason why they do not want to live in the community, fearing that they and their families will run into members of the public whom they’ve dealt with while in uniform, said Michael Lawlor, an associate professor in UNH’s Criminal

Justice Department and a New Haven police commission­er.

“As someone who was in that position for a very long time ... I get the concern,” Lawlor said, referring to his nearly two-dozen years as a state lawmaker. “I just think it’s outweighed by the value of having people truly knowing and invested in the community policing in the community.”

In the early 2000s, a person trailed a Manchester police officer to their home in the community and invaded the residence with the officer’s family inside, Fullana said. Because of that, the threat of being approached in the community has been on his mind.

“It’s something I’m always cautious of,” Fullana said. “But I firmly believe that there are so many good citizens that the number of great citizens far outweigh the number of bad people who look to do us harm.”

Although an extreme example, Fullana’s anecdote underscore­s the type of confrontat­ional dangers officers say they wish to avoid by living outside of the community in which they serve, according to state and local officials.

“Enforcing the law means that criminals are not going to be happy with the outcome of these duties when they’re caught,” Cicarella said. “There’s always a risk of an uncomforta­ble situation when an off-duty officer may run into an individual whose case they were involved in, either as an offender or victim.”

Officers who live among suspects they interact with daily could make them and their families targets for retaliatio­n, DeCarlo said. It also could take a psychologi­cal toll on officers, as the “inability to switch off from work could lead to increased stress and burnout,” he added.

Winchester Police Chief Christophe­r Ciuci wrote in an email that he did not want to share officer residency informatio­n due to “officer safety issues related to doxxing,” which involves searching for and publishing private informatio­n about a person on the Internet.

Manchester Mayor Jay Moran said he did not have an issue with police officers living out of town, empathizin­g with their desire to escape the confines of work.

“The last thing I believe you need to do is to go out

with your family somewhere and have someone come up to you bothering you,” Moran said. “They deal with a lot of stuff during their shift and maybe you just need to get away and have your down time.”

Cardona, the Meriden police lieutenant, acknowledg­ed that if an officer lives in the community he works, “you're basically a police officer 24/7.”

Other challenges

Amid a statewide shortage of police officers, many Connecticu­t municipali­ties said they are having trouble recruiting and retaining local candidates.

“Right now we have so many openings and so few applicants that we need to take the best applicant versus the local applicant,” said Carbone, Torrington's mayor.

Local officers made up about 21 percent of the Torrington Police Department, data shows. Carbone cited the city's relatively small population — about 35,500 — aging demographi­c and remote location as the biggest challenges to attracting inhouse candidates.

“Proximity to the job is nice,” Carbone said. “If there's an emergency, you want people that live close enough to be able to respond to an emergency within a very short period of time.

“But at the end of the day, we have to look at who we are,” Carbone added. “You have a very small pool to draw from.”

With so many understaff­ed police department­s, the state legislatur­e would be misguided to enact residency restrictio­ns for officers, according to Cicarella.

“If the state enacts further residency restrictio­ns, the officer candidate pool will become that much smaller and be yet another

obstacle for those who want to serve as law enforcemen­t,” he said. “The legislatur­e should not step

in to make more demands on cities and towns when these municipali­ties are already struggling to recruit

officers and fill needed positions.”

Connecticu­t law prohibits municipali­ties from requiring

unionized employees to live within their borders.

With the recent surge of

Connecticu­t real estate values, some officers cannot afford to buy homes where they work, forcing them to live outside the community, some local officials said.

“You can see where the trend is pushing them out of town,” said Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo, whose town had an officer residency rate of 22.4 percent. “A lot of them would love to still live here but can't. You're battling the market.”

Also in Fairfield County, Norwalk reported that 23 percent of its officers lived within the city's boundaries. Mayor Harry Rilling said the city's housing market has “exploded” in recent years, making home-buying “very challengin­g” for police officers and other public sector employees.

“We're building apartments and making more affordable housing in Norwalk, but affordable housing in Norwalk is not affordable for the average person,” Rilling said.

Cromwell Mayor James Demetriade­s called the town's 9 percent makeup of resident officers “shockingly low,” saying it stemmed from a shortage of housing options.

“We have a workforce housing problem, that is the crux of the issue,” Demetriade­s said. “At the end of the day, when you are a middle income person … it's hard to live in the communitie­s that you want to work if those communitie­s don't have housing that is workforce housing.”

The quality of a municipali­ty's schools also may affect an officer's desire to live there. Lawmakers might need to give officers an incentive to settle in areas with lower-performing school systems, according to state Sen. Herron Gaston, D-Bridgeport, who chairs the Public Safety and Security Committee.

Gaston floated the idea of giving officers a voucher or stipend to help defray

 ?? Jim Michaud/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Manchester police Officer Cory Fullana walks on Main Street in Manchester on March 6.
Jim Michaud/Hearst Connecticu­t Media Manchester police Officer Cory Fullana walks on Main Street in Manchester on March 6.
 ?? Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Stamford Police Chief Timothy Shaw. Stamford police had a relatively high rate at 35.77 percent.
Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticu­t Media Stamford Police Chief Timothy Shaw. Stamford police had a relatively high rate at 35.77 percent.
 ?? Dave Zajac/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Lt. Hector Cardona stands behind his desk at the Meriden Police Department on West Main Street in Meriden on Jan. 17.
Dave Zajac/Hearst Connecticu­t Media Lt. Hector Cardona stands behind his desk at the Meriden Police Department on West Main Street in Meriden on Jan. 17.
 ?? Jim Michaud/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Manchester police Officer Cory Fullana relaxes with a drink at the Silk City Coffee in Manchester. March 6.
Jim Michaud/Hearst Connecticu­t Media Manchester police Officer Cory Fullana relaxes with a drink at the Silk City Coffee in Manchester. March 6.

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