New law will speed hiring of UConn police, reduce overtime cost

UConn police

CT Mirror File Photo

Vacant police officer positions at The University of Connecticut linger for months before they are filled – forcing some officers to work weeks without a day off and costing the school tens of thousands of dollars a month in overtime.

There were four vacancies and two officers on leave as last weekend’s graduation ceremonies approached, leaving UConn police Chief Barbara O’Connor little choice but to tell her officers no one would be getting a day off for a while.

“To tell an officer, ‘Sorry you are not going to have any days off for two weeks,’ is a problem,” said O’Connor during an interview last week.

It’s also costly having so many positions unfilled.

The university reports it spent on average $65,900 a month on overtime last year, or about $800,000 annually.

O’Connor and legislators have been working the last two years to resolve this issue. They say the problem is that the state controls too much of the hiring process for UConn which slows down how quickly vacancies can be filled.

The current four vacancies at UConn remain after officials exhausted the list of candidates provided by the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services after a qualifying exam. The university’s department, which has had about 45 full-time officers in the last few years, has had 10 vacancy to fill this year.

Under the current system, UConn must wait for DAS to administer the next test to generate a new pool of candidates.

O’Connor says this sometimes takes years, leaving her with a stale list of candidates, many of whom have since found jobs; or with people who passed the test but were seeking employment at other state agencies; or with candidates who can’t pass the physical exam.

To fix this problem, state legislators passed legislation late this session that largely removes state involvement in the hiring process by not requiring candidates pass the DAS test or wait for the governor’s budget office to approve the number of vacant positions be filled.

Salary decisions for UConn officers, however, will still be determined by the union contract. State law also still dictates that the officers meet certain requirements, O’Connor said, pointing to the requirement that officers pass a physical exam and that family members not be hired.

“The only thing this will help is the speed in which we get the person hired,” she said.

State Sen. Beth Bye, previously the co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee and now the leader of the budget-writing committee, worked closely in writing this year’s budget bill that included this provision. She has said giving hiring decisions to UConn “is a public safety issue.”

O’Connor said the Storrs campus is at the minimum staffing level required to keep the 30,000 students and visitors on campus on any give day safe 50 percent of the time.

“We are too frequently at minimum staffing,” she said, adding that mandating officers work long shifts is also bad for morale.

Last fiscal year, 14 officers’ overtime topped $25,000 each, UConn reports. Overtime costs are calculated in their pensions.

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