When the ballots were counted Tuesday, the State Police Union overwhelmingly said they had no confidence in State Police leadership, following a decision to consolidate police dispatch centers.
Connecticut State Police Union President Andrew Matthews announced last month that the union planned to take a no confidence vote against Public Safety Commissioner Reuben Bradford and state police Col. Danny Stebbins.
The union has objected to the consolidation of state police dispatch centers and the reduction in the number of staff available to answer the phones, changes they say could impact public safety and trooper safety.
The state police have consolidated Troops A in Southbury, B in Canaan, and L in Litchfield, and the dispatch functions at those troops. It also consolidated Troop H in Hartford with Troop W, which was located at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.
Matthews said of the 794 troopers who voted, 752 had no confidence in Bradford, while 760 had no confidence in Stebbins. He said the union would be asking Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to find suitable replacements for them.
“Their lack of leadership and disrespectful attitude towards our membership has been demonstrated by the implementation of arbitrary policies which endanger public safety and trooper safety, and as a result, has caused irreparable damage to the morale of our membership,” Matthews said in a statement.
Following his monthly commissioner’s meeting, Malloy defended Bradford and Stebbins, saying they have been trying to implement needed change, which some find hard to stomach.
“This is a tactic that departments take from time to time. I just want to be very clear, I have the highest regard for the commissioner and the colonel. I think they’re doing absolutely outstanding job and they have my confidence,” he said.
Tuesday also happened to be the day Bradford and Stebbins were scheduled to address monthly commissioners meeting. Bradford defined change for the group.
“Change is a verb. It means to alter, modify, mutate, transform and vary. It’s made the Col. Stebbins and I very popular people,” he joked.
Even if they’re unpopular with the union, Stebbins argued the changes will save the state money and get 55 troopers away from answering calls and back on the roads.
Stebbins said the dispatch consolidation reflects a trend among police agencies around the country. He said misinformation may have played a role in the troopers’ perception of the program.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation released about this program. We’re an agency very, very deep in tradition and it’s sometimes very difficult to make change. We have found this to be very difficult, as a matter of fact, I was surprised that the blowback was greater than anticipated,” he said.
Matthews dismissed the idea that the union was spreading misinformation and accused leadership of hiding its agenda from the public, the legislature, and union members. He argued that the ongoing consolidations have actually increased costs and reduced the number of people available to answer calls from police in the field.
“The union membership is not resistant to change, just dangerous change. They are moving too fast, too soon, and in the wrong direction,” Matthews said.
However, Malloy said anyone would be hard-pressed to make an argument that putting 55 additional troopers on the road doesn’t make the state safer and save money.
The no confidence vote is only the latest in a string of conflicts between the administration and the state troopers union, who endorsed Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010. The union has also objected to the administration’s elimination of a statute requiring the state to employ at least 1,248 sworn troopers. The legislature approved the measure earlier this month during a special session.
Matthews has blamed the tattered relationship on police union’s vote to reject wage concessions during last summer’s $1.6 billion labor agreement vote, something he says the governor’s administration still resents.
On Tuesday Malloy didn’t deny that the no confidence vote may have been related to the contentious contract negotiations.
“Change is hard and labor relations is hard. That’s just a reality. And labor relations at a time when a contract is open is particularly difficult,” he said.
With Matthews describing trooper morale at an “all-time low,” it’s unclear what can be done to salvage the relationship between leadership and the rank and file. Asked how he planned to mend the relationship with the troopers, Bradford said that wasn’t his job.
“My job and Dan’s job is to run the agency from day-to-day, it’s not to mend fences. I didn’t tear down any fences, so again, we’ll continue to do our jobs,” he said.