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New London police union call for Sailfest cancellation due to low staffing

The event is set to return after two COVID-19 cancellations but the police union said they don't have the staff to handle the expected crowd.

NEW LONDON, Conn. — Sailfest is set to return to New London this July after the event was canceled the previous two years because of the pandemic.

The event attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the city and surrounding communities for the three-day weekend set to begin July 8th. The New London Police Union said they are not ready to handle it and are calling for it to be canceled.

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"The New London Police Union would like to express to the city and its administration that the police department does not have the staffing to support an event of this size to ensure the safety of the public and its officers," a letter written by the union President Joshua Bergeson and Vice President David Diogo to city officials said.

The union said the department is near record low staffing levels with 59 sworn officers. They said retirements are expected before the event.

In the letter, sent to Mayor Michael Passero among others, the union argued officers have had to work 16-hour days during the event with anywhere from four to eight hours between shifts, with goes against the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Mayor Passero said they are working to provide the police with the resources they'll need.

"We will not go into this weekend unless we are completely and fully prepared and we believe that we are planning for every eventuality right now," he said. "We’re confident that we have this event covered just like any other year."

The event involves more than 20 agencies on the federal, state, and local levels. The union said they can't rely too much on those other local agencies this year because of statewide staffing issues.

"The towns we rely on for mutual aid are also suffering the same staffing issues we are and have to organize and plan their own responses to the influx of people in the region that come to observe the fireworks," the letter reads.

The union said they have to focus on the event, traffic, and normal duties during the busy summer weekend. They wrote Ocean Beach Park, which attracts thousands of people during the summer, has requested patrol in previous years and has been denied because of the number of officers Sailfest requires.

“With staffing numbers at record lows, the focus will most likely be placed on patrol operations and the downtown event, and foregoing traffic assignments. Even with the assistance of officers directing traffic after the fireworks event, it took hours to alleviate the gridlock," the letter said concerned about services like ambulances and paramedics getting through the traffic.

They said that crime has not stopped during the weekend and that pulls officers from the event as well.

"The fact that we’re bringing it back after a two-year hiatus, just the ability to be able to show off our town. This is the one event where we have the most people that come to New London," the mayor said. "It's a great celebration."

The department can hire up to 80 officers. The mayor said they are trying to recruit by promoting the benefits of the job as well as encouraging youth New London residents to seek a career in law enforcement.

The Emerson family moved to New London from Utah two years ago and has not been able to experience Sailfest.

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"We’ve just heard a lot about how this is what New London is known for so," Miranda said. "Finally after COVID’s over we’re getting to know the area a little bit more so it just feels like an important part to getting to know more about where we live."

She and her husband, Preston, are looking forward to the fireworks, live music, and food alongside their baby, Charlie. They said the concerns from the department are not necessarily concerns for them.

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"We'll definitely keep [Charlie] on a tight leash, but..." Preston said.

The union letter referenced previous events the city has held to replace Sailfest during the pandemic including fireworks downtown and "Eat in the Street." They said those were "great" for the city and are safer because of police staffing levels.

Mayor Passero said that was never considered as this event is a big benefit to the whole region.

Tony Black is a multi-media journalist at FOX61 News. He can be reached at tblack@fox61.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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