Michael Lee Murphy file photo
State Supreme Court in Hartford (Michael Lee Murphy file photo)

Next month, the state will ask the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that found it should enforce a 1998 minimum state trooper mandate that has since been erased by the legislature.

The 1998 statute, which has since been changed by the General Assembly, was established after the murder of Heather Messenger.

Before being murdered by her husband, Messenger, who lived in Chaplin and was pregnant at the time, was able to barricade herself in her bedroom and dial 911.

Unfortunately, the local state police barracks had only four troopers on the road that night and one on desk duty. The four officers were scattered about their 300-square-mile coverage area and it took them 20 minutes to get to Messenger’s residence. They were too late to save her. Before the year was out, lawmakers had it written into statute that there would always be at least 1,248 troopers in Connecticut.

Flash forward to 2011. The Connecticut State Police Union is in a battle with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who asked them to forgo a raise in order to help balance the budget. When they refused, he ended up laying off 56 troopers. The union then filed a lawsuit against the Department of Public Safety to enforce the 1,248 state trooper mandate.

In January 2012, Superior Court Judge James Graham upheld the mandate, saying it was “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.

In 2012, the legislature eliminated the 1,248 minimum state trooper mandate and called for a study of police staffing and response times, but the case was appealed before it acted.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments at 11 a.m. on Sept. 19.

On appeal, the state argued that the Connecticut State Police Union’s arguments are moot because the state had already deleted that portion of the statute. The statute now provides that the Commissioner of Public Safety appoint and maintain “a sufficient number” of sworn state police personnel. When it comes to the union’s demand that the state hire additional troopers, the state makes a claim of sovereign immunity.