Officers Give Up Pay For A Day
-Aim Is To Support Wounded Police, Protest Staff Levels

July 7, 2003
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer

Between 40 and 80 Hartford police officers are expected to show up for work today without being paid, in a voluntary show of support for three fellow officers who were shot over the past month.

The effort, organized by the department's police union, also is being mounted to protest ongoing staffing shortages and cutbacks in the department's overtime budget.

"We want the people who live in this city to know that we care about their safety, even if it means we can't get paid," said Sgt. Michael Wood, head of the police union. "We need to show the criminal elements in our neighborhoods that we are a united police force, and we will not tolerate any further attacks."

Wood said at least 40 officers who normally would not be working today signed on to fill a voluntary shift last Thursday, one day after a city police officer was shot in the legs by a suspect in a motor vehicle accident. The suspect was shot and killed in the incident by the wounded officer's partner.

As many as 40 more officers could show up for today's voluntary shift assignments, which are scheduled to take place from roughly 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. - normally the department's busiest time in terms of crimes and the volume of complaints.

Top department officials, including Chief Bruce P. Marquis, were not available to comment on the volunteer assignments. But Wood said he consulted with Assistant Chief Kevin Jones, who told him the officers would be allowed to work the shifts and would be covered by the department's insurance carrier in case of injury or accident.

Wood said the volunteer officers will work shift assignments that, because of staffing shortages, have not been filled in recent years. Such assignments, he said, include walking beats on busy thoroughfares such as Park Street and Albany Avenue, as well as neighborhood patrols.

Though the volunteer assignments will last only one day, Wood said he hopes they will be met with enough enthusiasm from the public to encourage the city to commit more financial and personnel resources to the department.

The department has about 360 uniformed officers, about 60 short of its authorized strength. To help offset the shortage, the city recently arranged to have almost two dozen state police troopers help increase police visibility in problem areas.

Also, a class of 48 police recruits is expected to graduate later this month, and an additional 15 officers have been hired over the past three years. But police officials said the new hires have not been enough to offset an ongoing wave of more than 100 retirements within the department in the past three years.

Officers also say the city has left residents and officers in a vulnerable position because of cutbacks in the department's overtime budget. The officers say many crucial patrol assignments are no longer being filled because the department can no longer afford to cover them.

Wood and other officers point to the recent shootings of three police officers, as well as three incidents in which police shot suspects, earlier this year, as evidence that criminals are becoming more brazen.

In Wednesday's incident, Officer Andrew Jacobson and his partner, Officer Richard Salkeld, were trying to handcuff a suspect on Evergreen Avenue after responding to a report of a motor vehicle accident. The suspect, later identified as 23-year-old Juan Negron of Hartford, resisted, even after the officers doused him with pepper spray, police said.

After falling to the ground, Negron reached into his waistband and pulled out a handgun, firing a shot at Jacobson that passed through one of the officer's legs into the other, police said. Jacobson is recovering from the injuries.

Salkeld returned fire with his police weapon, striking Negron several times and killing him.

Wood said the incident alarmed many officers because of Negron's willingness to fire on the officers despite his being outnumbered.

"Most of the time, we have only one cop available to respond to calls like that, so imagine what might have happened if Officer Jacobson did not have another officer to assist him," he said. "That's the kind of situation we want to avert."

In early June, two plainclothes officers were shot by an alleged drug dealer who fired at them after he realized they were police and not customers, police said. Both of those officers have recovered.