Town’s Newest Police Officer Sworn In; Commission Conducts First Meeting Of The Year
The Board of Police Commissioners held its first meeting of the year on January 5, with members again convening remotely due to the ongoing pandemic.
All five commissioners were in attendance. There was no public participation.
During the brief meeting, commissioners heard from the police chief and the police union representative, discussed COVID vaccinations within the department, and discussed adding an ordinance to the town charter to clarify the commission’s mission. Police Chief James Viadero also confirmed the hire of a new police patrol officer, who was sworn in to service the following afternoon.
The commissioners conducted two special meetings in December. Joined by Viadero and Police Captain Christopher Vanghele, the commissioners interviewed six potential patrol officer candidates on December 9. The meeting was conducted in the conference room of 191 South Main Street, where the board was able to conduct business in person for the first time in months.
The room allowed social distancing guidelines to be followed. The meeting, which concerned personnel matters, was conducted in executive session.
At the conclusion of that meeting, the commissioners announced a decision to offer employment to Anthony Falbo, Travis Kullgren, and Hugo Rojas as patrol officers.
On December 22, the commissioners met again, this time to interview three additional candidates. The meeting was again conducted in the police station’s conference room, in executive session.
At the conclusion of that meeting, the commissioners offered Peter John Wlasuk a conditional patrol officer employment.
This week, Viadero told the commissioners that Wlasuk and Rojas had accepted their offers. Wlasuk’s swearing in was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, he said. Rojas, who is already a veteran police officer, will begin “comparative certification,” the chief also reported, who will move forward in February with swearing in and acclimation.
A third opening in the department has yet to be filled, he said.
New Officer Sworn In
In a very brief gathering on January 6, Peter Wlasuk, Jr, 29, was sworn in as the town’s newest patrol officer.
Wlasuk had orientation scheduled for January 7 at the department, and was to begin his police academy studies this week. He will, according to Chief Viadero, be doing remote studies from the police department.
Viadero, Police Commission Chair Joel Faxon, and First Selectman Dan Rosenthal all spoke during Wednesday’s gathering, ahead of Town Clerk Deb Aurelia Halstead administering the oath of office.
His parents, Antoinette and Peter Wlasuk, Sr, were in attendance on Wednesday, as were members of the police commission. His mother had the honor of pinning on Wlasuk’s badge.
Wlasuk is a 2009 graduate of Newtown High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science in accounting at the University of Connecticut (2012), and a master’s in taxation at University of Miami (2013).
Wlasuk was employed as a tax associate and then senior tax associate at the international accounting firm PWC, a tax analyst at ITT Inc. Most recently, he said Wednesday afternoon, he worked in the Stamford office of the global accounting firm RSM.
Police Union Report
Tuesday evening, the commissioners heard from Police Union Representative Adam James. The officer reported that everyone within the department is very happy with the new headquarters at 191 South Main Street.
“No one has any complaints, so thank you all for being part of that,” James said. “It’s been a long time coming, but it’s nice to finally have something like this come to fruition.”
The department relocated from 3 Main Street to the retrofitted office building on South Main Street late last year. Most operations are being conducted from the new location; Viadero later in the meeting noted that the holding facility at the former location is still being utilized “in part due to logistics and technology that is tied in to that use.”
James said the union’s current focus within the building is outfitting the gym. Being able to provide fitness equipment on scene will allow members of the department to arrive early and exercise, he said.
“That’s going to help a lot of guys,” he said. “As far as officer wellness, from the union perspective we’re really making that a priority.”
James also told the commission that following “a tough summer” for police in general, “morale generally from our rank and file guys, patrolmen like me that are out on the streets, is going up and people are enjoying coming to work again, which is all that I can ask for.”
Commission Chair Joel Faxon thanked James for his time, and mentioned his appreciation for the direct feedback between the union and commission. Commissioner Scott Cicciari added appreciation for James’s attendance, saying he liked being able to put a face to the name.
“The message we’d like to continue to resonate is sincere appreciation to the men and the women that continue to serve this town in the police fashion,” the commissioner further noted. “It’s been a year of difficulty and change, and you all tremendously weathered the storm well. We appreciate that, and we appreciate you as well, stepping into the leadership position.”
In his report, Viadero said six weeks after most operations had moved into the new building, “I think we’ve got most of the bugs out so far.” There remain six items, “nothing serious,” for the building manager to sign off on, he added.
The front lobby, including the records division, is completely operational. Communications will have further work done in late January-early February, “so we can get them down here,” he said.
The chief reported the department continues to follow COVID protocols. As of that evening, two officers were in 7-to-10-day quarantine after being exposed to family members with the virus, the chief stated.
Sergeant Scott Smith had arranged for vaccinations to be offered to every member of the department.
While shots are not mandatory, the chief said, 75 percent of the sworn officers have begun the immunization process. Most are nearing the time for their second shot. Some are waiting, he added, to see what kind of symptoms and side effects are reported by others.
In response to a question from Faxon, the chief said the department has not yet been faced with the dilemma of what to do if an officer who has received the vaccine is then exposed to someone who has the virus.
“We have been operating since March on the side of error,” the chief said. “We’re being very cautious. We know that it’s supposed to be a 95 percent effective rate for the immunization,” he said. “As far as the CDC guidelines, they haven’t said that if you have the shot, you are not subject to the quarantine.
“We’re probably going to say if somebody has a direct exposure, and they’ve had the shot, we’re still going to hold them out,” he added. “We don’t want to take the chance of exposing our whole workforce here until we get some direction otherwise.”
With budget season approaching, the chief told the board on January 5 that he “just finished fine tuning” his department’s, with “nothing out of the ordinary” expected.
“The only significant increase,” he told them, “will be along the line of $11,000-$12,000 for some of the mandates on the police accountability bill.”
House Bill 6004, An Act Concerning Police Accountability, was passed in June 2020. Many of its elements went into effect upon passage. Others, such as behavioral health assessments for officers and a requirement to clearly display badges and name tags, went into effect January 1. Still others, including limits on the use of choke holds or similar restraints, go into effect later this year.
Viadero on Wednesday reported that 20 percent of his agency “has to get the mental health check, and the drug testing” and that will also need to be covered within the budget.
The chief also addressed Civilian Review Boards as addressed in HB 6004, which “allows each town’s legislative body to establish a civilian police review board by ordinance.”
Viadero felt the Town of Newtown Board of Police Commissioners is already in compliance with that section of the bill, which was one of the sections that went into effect upon passage last year.
Commissioners Neil Chaudhary and Joan Plouffe both said they felt that spelling out what the local police commission does, especially regarding the new state statute, “would save problems, even over semantics, moving forward,” Chaudhary said.
“We’re defined in the Town Charter as a Police Commission, which sounds the same, but do we need an ordinance to say the Police Commission is the Civilian Review Board, just so there’s no ambiguity?” he asked Viadero.
The chief told the commissioners that “basically you’re doing everything that accountability bill is asking for.” The new directive, he said, was aimed at departments in towns “that had no avenue for anybody to have a civilian review of the police agency. We have a police commission. There were police departments in the state of Connecticut that had no police commission, or no civilian oversight.”
Faxon agreed with the commissioners, and proposed working on “a very simple, one sentence ordinance” be crafted. He will present it to the commission next month, and then forward it to the appropriate town board after that.
Viadero also told the commission this week that he will be reappointed to the Connecticut Police Officers Standards and Training Council (POSTC).
He also, in response to a question from Plouffe, said that the return of a prescription drug drop box is uncertain at this time. Many pharmacies have discussed hosting similar collection points, he said. He is waiting to see what happens with CVS before committing to putting one in the new lobby.