A Superior Court judge may have denied their initial attempt to stop Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration from laying off 56 state troopers, but state troopers prevailed in their argument that the 1,248 minimum staffing level is something the administration should be enforcing.

In a first examination of the 1998 statute, Superior Court Judge James Graham, found Friday that the statute “is not merely providing the commissioner the authority to appoint a minimum number of officers, but is directing that he take such action.”

“It is difficult to read this provision as anything other than an acknowledgment that the minimum staffing requirement of 1,248 troopers is mandatory. If it was not, it would have been unnecessary to suspend the statute for a three year period,” Graham concluded.

Even though the legislation was passed in 1998 it wasn’t adopted until 2001.

Malloy’s Chief Legal Counsel Andrew McDonald said Tuesday that the administration planned to appeal to the state Supreme Court to conduct an authoritative review of the statute.

McDonald said the Superior Court erred when it denied the administration’s motion to dismiss. He argued Graham ignored the fact that staffing levels have routinely been below the 1,248 minimum.

Pointing to language taken from a transcript of the debate over the statute, McDonald said the law was intended to be directive, not mandatory. At the time, Rep. Stephen Dargan, D- West Haven, said the commissioner would be asked to “try to keep” staffing at that level.

Since then, the legislature has only appropriated the department enough money to fund that many troopers during three years, he said.

“The commissioner can’t hire people in positions if he doesn’t have the funds to pay those people,” he said.

However, Graham points out that a proposed amendment that would have changed the law’s language to say the commissioner should abide by the mandate “to the best of his ability,” was defeated.

“If the statute was intended to leave the number of officers to the discretion of the commissioner or governor, it would not have been necessary to propose that amendment,” he wrote.

McDonald said things have changed since 1998 and suggested the legislature might re-think the statute during this year’s session.

“It’s undeniable that our crime rate is down substantially. We are experiencing the lowest prison population in more than 40 years,” he said. “What was necessary in 1998 bears little relevance to where we are in 2012.”

The state does not mandate how many correctional officers work in its prisons, so why should there be a fixed number of state troopers, he asked.

“Crime fighting is not a stagnant endeavor,” he said.

Andrew Matthews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union, said the need for an adequate number of troopers doesn’t boil down to a simple statistic.

“It’s not about the number of crimes it’s about response time,” he said.

Staffing levels impact how many troopers are in a geographical area, he said. Having less is a public safety concern because it takes the officers longer to respond to a call, he said. It can also pose a threat to the troopers who already wait longer than municipal police for backup, he said.

State police also provide services that go beyond arresting criminals like traffic enforcement and assisting the public, he said. 

There are currently 1,080 troopers working for the state, so in order to comply with the statute the state would need to hire an additional 168 troopers.

The 56 rookie troopers who were laid off after their bargaining unit rejected concessions in August were hired back in October after 40 state police officers retired and freed up enough funds in the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.