Darien Police requests new officers for the first time in three decades

The Darien Police Department headquarters in Darien, Conn., photographed on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.
The Darien Police Department headquarters in Darien, Conn., photographed on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — For the first time in more than 35 years, the Darien Police Department wants to add more full-time police officers to its staff.

As part of the department’s budget request for 2023-24 — presented to the Board of Selectmen during its Jan. 31 budget meeting — Police Chief Donald Anderson requested two new police officer positions be added to the department. The number of officers has not been expanded since 1987, when one position was added.

While the department’s official head count is 51 sworn officers, there are only has 45 sworn officers currently — after another officer retired Wednesday. 

According to Anderson, the department’s highest staffing count in the past five years was 49 officers for what he said was “a very short time.”

The department budget also included a turnover adjustment of $85,000 in anticipation of several retirements over the course of the next fiscal year. 

Adding the two new patrol officers would allow two more senior officers to take on added responsibilities, Anderson said: one as a narcotics officer and the other intended to manage the department’s accreditation process and Freedom of Information responses.

Anderson said the number of FOI requests “probably doubled or tripled in the last 10 years,” made more difficult by the hours of work that go into examining requests for body camera footage. According to Anderson, the department received more than 50 FOI requests in 2022.

Capt. Alison Hudyma also said that the department’s traffic division, where the department receives the bulk of its complaints, has not been properly staffed in the past year. 

“It would help us get back to our patrol that we need for our community ... and enforce the laws they want us to enforce properly,” she said.

Anderson said it was important to look at the staffing requests within the context of how the department’s staff has evolved in his 40 years there, including carving out staff for school resource officers and department reorganization. 

“I think we’re going to get it to the ideal situation where moving forward, I think we’re going to be set with our staff,” Anderson said. “It may not be 40 years until a chief comes back and asks for additional staff, but it shouldn’t be in the next decade.”

First Selectman Monica McNally asked whether the added positions would solve the department’s shortage given the number of years the department has not been at staffing capacity.

“If you haven’t been at full strength, how are you going to get to full strength just adding two more spots?” she asked. “How are you going to hire these people?”

Anderson responded that Darien was a “very desirable community to work in” for many officers, and he did not see many of the department’s newer officers “looking to go on to greener pastures.”

However, he did acknowledge that the department faced hiring challenges with a decline in applicants as fewer people enter the profession, adding that he was unwilling to employ any officers that did not meet his or the town’s standards.

“I’d rather not fill the spots than try to fill them with people we have any hesitation about,” he said.

The town recently approved a four-year contract with the Darien Police Association that town administrator Kate Buch said has not yet been accounted for in the budget. The new contract included general wage increases totaling 11.5 percent through July 2026, and placing a starting salary for new officers at $74,770 in 2022-23.

Buch said she considered recalling the two school resource officers from Darien High School and Middlesex Middle School to fill in the staffing gap but didn’t think it was “the right thing to do.”

She did suggest that the Board of Selectman ask the Board of Education to reimburse the town for the cost of the SROs, similar to how the town reimburses the board for IT personnel.