Last month a Superior Court judge ruled that the Malloy administration should be enforcing a statute requiring the state to maintain at least 1,248 state troopers. But a bill the governor proposed Wednesday would eliminate the requirement altogether.
Senate Bill 32 replaces the language mandating a minimum trooper count with a requirement that the commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection provide a staffing assessment to the Public Safety Committee every other year.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s spokesman Andrew Doba said the bi-annual needs assessment makes more sense than a rigid mandate.
“The governor’s legislation calls for an bi-annual needs assessment to determine the correct number of troopers, rather than an arbitrary stature. That assessment, which must be approved by the legislature, will allow troopers to continue to do what they do best – protect public safety – while at the same time lower costs for Connecticut taxpayers,” he said in a statement.
The requirement has been largely ignored since it was adopted in 2001. The legislature has only appropriated enough money to fund that many troopers during three years. However, when the state laid off 56 troopers after their union rejected benefit concessions, the union filed suit to block the layoffs, citing the mandate.
The court initially declined to stop the layoffs but the troopers were later hired back after 40 officers retired. In January, Superior Court Judge James Graham denied a motion to by Malloy’s administration to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the law was not just a suggestion.
“It is difficult to read this provision as anything other than an acknowledgment that the minimum staffing requirement of 1,248 troopers is mandatory,” Graham concluded.
Andrew Matthews, president of the troopers union, said he is confident that once lawmakers hear from the public on the bill they will decide to keep the mandate. The bill that originally requiring the mandate passed both the legislative chambers with unanimous support, he said.
Malloy’s Chief Legal Counsel Andrew McDonald said the administration planned to appeal the decision but if the legislature approves the governor’s bill that could become unnecessary.
The governor’s bill was among a package of proposals to implement his budget recommendations and will have to be raised in the Public Safety and Security Committee. Committee leadership planned to meet with members of the administration following their Thursday morning meeting.
“We’re meeting with them this afternoon and we’re going to learn more about the proposal,” Sen. Joan Hartley, Public Safety co-chairwoman, said. “Certainly because it’s the governor’s bill, we will raise it.”
Public Safety Co-Chairman, Rep. Stephen Dargan, D- West Haven, said the state police are the only agency that has a minimum staffing requirement. He wasn’t sure whether he would be supportive of eliminating it but said he was planning on having a discussion about it with people from the Office of Policy and Management.
“I voted to increase staffing level to 1,248 a number of years ago when John Rowland was here. It’s something that we need to look at where the administration is coming from and where the Department of Public Safety is coming from too,” he said.
Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R- Stafford Springs, a ranking member on the committee, said he would want to see the details of the proposal before he could sign on to it.
“A lot of study went in to the minimum originally in this committee and other public safety venues. I wouldn’t want to be changing that and make it some floating target depending on budget numbers because there are three things that state government aught to be doing, public education, public safety, and public health,” he said.
The Malloy administration has argued that the criminal justice necessities have changed since the mandate was passed in 1998.
Doba said FBI statistics put Connecticut’s crime rate at a 44-year low.
“There are many factors that contribute to the safety of our citizens, but an arbitrary statute mandating the minimum number of state troopers is not one of them. We know that crime is down across the country, and yet Connecticut appears to be the only state that has a staffing requirement like this on the books,” he said.
Doba defended Malloy’s criminal justice track record, which he said includes overseeing a 63 percent crime reduction in Stamford while he was mayor, making it one of the 10 safest cities in the country.
Ditching the state trooper mandate wasn’t the only criminal justice policy the governor proposed Wednesday. Another bill would give municipal police officers and motor vehicle inspectors arrest powers outside their towns.
Mike Lawlor, Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice, said municipal police already have arrest powers when it comes to felonies. The bill gives them the power to make an arrest if they witness someone committing a misdemeanor outside their town.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association has pushed for the bill in past years, saying it benefits the homeland security effort by “adding thousands of trained officers to the eyes and ears keeping watch in our state.”
“Although a terrorist attack itself is a felony, it may be solved or prevented by an officer acting on a lesser offense, or merely suspicious activity,” Chiefs Anthony Salvatore & James Strillacci told the Judiciary Committee in 2006. “For example, the Oklahoma City bomber was caught due to a routine traffic violation.”
In 2006, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Leonard Boyle opposed the bill, saying it could put an officer outside of his or her town at risk.
The officer making a misdemeanor arrest would be “operating without an adequate knowledge of a foreign town’s geographic area, without immediate access to assistance, without immediate radio communications with the local police authorities, and with the possibility of being mistaken for an armed criminal offender if operating in a plainclothes capacity.”
Matthews said that he would have to look at the bill before taking a position on it, but allowing officers to make misdemeanor arrests outside of their jurisdictions could increase liabilities for the municipalities they work for.
“[The state] is finding a way to transfer financial burdens onto local government in many different ways,” he said. “…That’s the whole purpose of having a state police agency.”