The New Haven Police union has put up two digital billboard ads near the I-91 & I-95 interchange as part of their push for better pay.
The department is down more than 85 officers. Chief Anthony Campbell told NBC Connecticut the shortage is only expected to get worse by the end of the year.
“Low pay, police don’t stay,” said Craig Miller, president of Elm City Local, quoting one of the ads.
The second digital ad says, “In three years, 34 officers left New Haven for better pay or benefits.”
“It falls back on public safety,” Miller said. “We need to be fully staffed to protect the public, to perform our duties as police officers."
The starting officer salary of about $44,000 may be the lowest for law enforcement in the state, Campbell said.
“When you look at our sister cities Hartford and Bridgeport, they both start out significantly more than we do," Campbell added.
After more than two years without a contract and pay increase, the New Haven Police Union and the city are headed to arbitration next month.
"I believe the billboard is true,” Campbell said. “This is something that we've been talking about for years, if you don't pay your officers competitively they're not going to stay."
According to Campbell, many members of his department cannot afford to live in New Haven.
"At the end of the day people are dedicated and loyal first and foremost to their families,” he said. “They have bills to pay."
After more retirements by the end of the year, New Haven could be down more than 130 police officers.
“Members of the New Haven Police Department comprise what I believe is the best-trained and most effective law enforcement agency in Connecticut,” Mayor Toni Harp (D) said in a statement. “The current, binding arbitration process will yield a new contract to provide them with appropriate compensation for their efforts given the city’s current ability to provide that compensation.”
Earlier this summer, Harp defended handing out pay raises to her own staff.
“When I heard about her staff getting raises I didn't know about this problem with the police department, but now that I know it infuriates me even more," New Haven taxpayer Kimberly Hart said.
The city is still safe with officers working overtime, Campbell said, but he added there may be a breaking point.
"It may come down to us looking at reducing the size of our department in order to increase pay," Campbell said.