Multiple Topics Covered At Police Commission Meeting
During a brief virtual meeting last week, the Board of Police Commissioners checked in on multiple topics.
Chair Joel Faxon was joined on March 2 by the four members of the commission via video or phone links.
Police Chief James Viadero and Officer Bart Lorancaitis, representing the police union, were in the conference room of the police station for the meeting. Captain Christopher Vanghele joined them from a separate location via video feed.
Lorancaitis told the commission that he and other officers have begun “stepping up our traffic enforcement [in areas that are a concern for speeding], as safely as possible, so you’ll see our numbers have increased this past month.”
He and the union have also been working with the department’s administration, he said, to develop procedures for booking at the new building. Newtown Police Department moved into new headquarters at 191 South Main Street in November.
The group was planning a presentation concerning the new procedures the following day, he said, “to hopefully finalize those.”
Viadero spoke next, and said the Newtown Emergency Communications Center will relocate from 3 Main Street — the department's original location — to 191 South Main Street this month.
“We are still working on the building,” he said, referring to final preparations at the South Main Street location, “but we are still anticipating a March 16 move for Communications.
“The vendors have been working here nonstop to get it running,” Viadero said. “That’s a pretty firm cutover date.
“Once we get Communications in here, we’ll have our booking facility up and running,” he added. “We have a few technology issues that we’re working through with our vendors.”
Returning to the topic of the booking facility, the chief said he was looking forward to the presentation from Lorancaitis and other officers who have been working on the new policy.
“We empowered them to look at the facility and come up with a policy that works for them. They’re the ones who are the end users,” Viadero said.
In reporting on COVID within the department, Viadero said most individuals who elected to receive shots have received both. Later in the meeting, Vanghele agreed with the chief on the latest COVID news.
There have been no new cases, nor even absences, due to the coronavirus and its symptoms since January, Vanghele reported. Additionally, 96% of the department’s membership have been vaccinated with their second shots, he said.
Everyone in the department continues to wear face masks, the building is regularly cleaned, and all are practicing CDC protocols.
“I think we’re really setting the bar high with what we’re doing,” Vanghele said.
Viadero complimented Vanghele on taking “a strong lead” within the department for COVID prevention.
“It’s all about coordination and communication, and getting information out there, and he’s done a great job for months,” Viadero said.
Vacancy, Newest Recruits
Viadero also reported Tuesday night on the vacancy in the department’s detective division. The department has had an opening since the June 2020 retirement of Joseph Joudy.
A letter of solicitation was sent out several months ago giving officers the opportunity to work on a three-month rotational basis “to get a flavor of what the detective bureau looks like,” Viadero said. He is hoping to administer a detective’s test in May or June. Assessors have been unable to conduct tests for months due to COVID, he noted.
The department’s newest recruit, Peter Wlasuk, Jr, “is doing very well.” Wlasuk was sworn in as the town’s newest patrol officer in January, and has been undergoing training since them. Most has been done from the South Main Street building via Zoom, although some has been done in Meriden, “to get some hands-on training,” Viadero said.
Veteran police officer Hugo Rojas, who was offered a position in December, is currently undergoing comparative certification through the Connecticut Police Officers Standards and Training Council (POSTC), the chief noted. Once approval is received for his certification, the department will move forward with having him sworn in, “and get the ball rolling on his hire,” Viadero said.
There is still one opening available, the chief later noted. Candidates are being vetted and he will report back to the committee on them during a future meeting.
Accountability Statute Stay, Training
Viadero next told the commission that POSTC has requested a stay on one of the statues in the police accountability bill that went into effect last year.
House Bill 6004, An Act Concerning Police Accountability, was passed in June 2020, with many of its elements going into effect then. Among its statutes is one that concerns the use of force. That was scheduled to go into effect April 1.
Viadero told the police commission that following testimony last week in front of the Judiciary Committee, and then deliberation on March 1, POSTC “has asked for a stay of implementation to April 2022.
“The policy has been written for the whole state,” he said. “The next step is, there are a number of individuals — 15 officers that teach use of force, some legal experts, and some other individuals — who are putting a lesson plan together. The premise is the lesson plan be universal, it be sanctioned by POSTC, and everybody be trained the exact same way.”
The chief moved next to his department’s training, offering “David Kullgren some kudos.” The lieutenant has been leading a group of fellow officers in working with Fairfield County Training Association since last March, when the pandemic began to effect in-person training.
The association worked with a company to put training components online, which in turn has made it possible for all of Newtown’s officers to take their classes.
“It’s working out much better than we anticipated,” Viadero said, adding that the process of working online will be adopted and remain in place even after the COVID pandemic.
“At this time right now, I think all of our officers that were due for their training cycle are pretty much up to speed because of that ability to take those classes online,” he said.
The chief also touched on the “ongoing process” to replace body cameras for the department, which has been addressed in recent police commission meetings. He met with a vendor earlier in the day, he said, and is looking to transition to a body cam model that will work with the servers already in place.
Particularly Tough Shift
The police chief then talked about a fatal crash on Toddy Hill Road a few mornings earlier.
“A young life was lost very early Sunday morning,” he said. “It’s always disturbing when that happens.”
The investigation into the February 28 single-vehicle crash is preliminary, Viadero said.
“We don’t have anything definitive. It’s still an ongoing investigation,” he added, noting that it could take up to six weeks to complete.
Captain Vanghele reported that Newtown police officers also responded to “a pretty heart-wrenching suicide” during that same shift.
“The midnight guys have been hit very hard with some high-stress, high-anxiety calls like that,” the captain said. “They’re tough guys, they can handle it, but we know in law enforcement that it’s better to not let things pile up.”
For that reason, Vanghele said, an employee assistance program counselor was brought in immediately to talk to those on that shift and made himself available so that anyone could speak with him, “and at least get some initial counseling for them.”
Faxon offered his heartfelt condolences on behalf of the commission to the family of the driver who died Sunday morning, saying it was “a horrible thing to go through.”
He noted the “resiliency of our men and women dealing with these things that they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. A lot of times people are not aware of the significance of the impact that it can have on people, so to have services and assistance available is obviously very important and I appreciate the chief’s and Chris’s attention to that very important aspect of supporting our men and women.”
He then said that in being the town’s traffic authority, “whose most important and most focused goal is to make sure that traffic safety is paramount in the way that we maintain our roads, and what we do on the roads that are under our jurisdiction, to the extent that the town and the department and agency is doing an in-depth investigation of this tragedy that happened on Toddy Hill Road, we will take the findings of that investigation into consideration in determining what, if anything, needs to be done relative to traffic safety.
“We look forward on that aspect of it to a full report so that we can analyze that and look at it in the future,” Faxon added.
Commissioner Scott Cicciari also mentioned the two tough calls a few minutes later.
“Our hearts do go out to the men and women on that midnight shift,” he said. “It’s one thing to have to go through them every now and then, but to have two of those backed up, certainly our thoughts and prayers are not only with the families and the friends of those affected, but certainly our men and women that serve us.”
Cicciari also checked in on two items Tuesday evening. The first was to ask whether anything was being done “around the flagpole,” and the planned construction around Exit 11’s ramps.
Both have been diverted to Public Works Director Fred Hurley, Viadero responded, who is working with WestCOG, “the planning agency for the state and the western towns,” on a traffic study and design study.
“I’ve left it up to him. When he needs something from us, whether testimony or input, he can let us know,” Viadero said. “Just like a lot of other projects, pretty much everything is at a standstill, as far as planning, because of COVID.”
Cicciari also said he had been asked by a resident to find out why what appears to be a security gate in the southern section of the new police headquarters parking lot is always in the up position.
“I didn’t know if at some point we were going to start to implement it or if it’s a bad design and we need something different,” Cicciari said.
Viadero offered a two-part response.
“Honestly, it’s a great design,” he said. “With all the snow we’ve had, had the gate been going in the other direction, we would have had a big problem.”
Further, the chief said, the gate is not yet being used because its function is tied to the Communications division.
“The operation of that gate is going to be two-fold,” he said. “There will be operation from a console in Communications, and from the officers’ cars. Being that we don’t have Communications here yet, all that infrastructure tying that gate to the console is not yet in place. That will be operational when Communications is on site.”
Toddy Hill Road resident Pete Sepe was the one person to offer public participation Tuesday night. Sepe thanked Viadero for “the police presence that’s been here lately. We definitely need it. The speed is really terrific” in his area.
The 2.4-mile-long road runs from Berkshire Road/State Route 34 to an intersection with Button Shop Road before becoming Botsford Hill Road. Residents on Toddy Hill Road and many of its side roads have long reported problems with speeding and aggressive drivers.