He was there Thursday to talk about funding for policing the two casinos, but lawmakers from eastern Connecticut wanted Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Reuben Bradford to know they were concerned about the consolidation of their dispatch centers.
Last year it was the western part of the state. Now State Police dispatch centers in eastern Connecticut are being consolidated. At the end of October, Troop D in Danielson and Troop K in Colchester moved their dispatch functions to Troop C in Tolland. Troop E in Montville will be consolidated next.
The changes are part of a larger effort to reduce the number of state police dispatch centers in the state from 12 to 5. In the western part of the state, dispatch functions for Troops A and B were moved to Troop L in Litchfield.
Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, wanted to know how much the consolidation effort in the eastern part of the state cost.
Neither Bradford nor Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes were able to give her an answer Thursday.
But Bradford said the consolidation effort was not about saving money. “It was a business decision that made use of our resources in the most efficient manner possible.”
He said that in 1974, when he went to the training academy, it was to become a trooper rather than a dispatcher.
“So as a taxpayer I don’t want a policeman dispatching,” Bradford told Orange. “I want him out doing work he’s supposed to be doing.”
Bradford said the barracks will still be staffed as they traditionally are staffed and will not be closing. But it’s just the dispatching function that will be moved.
“It’s not so much a cost savings as it is a proper deployment of hazardous duty resources doing hazardous duty functions,” Bradford said.
Orange said she understands that, but she questioned the staffing levels. She said she knows someone who went to the barracks during the day to seek help, and the doors were locked because no one was there. They used the blue emergency phone and were told someone would be there in 20 minutes.
“Twenty minutes is a long time when someone’s in crisis,” Orange said. “Twenty minutes is too long to come back to a troop.”
Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said there have been several incidents in the past six weeks where she believes public safety has been jeopardized.
“For a decision that was initially made to save money, it’s now not saving money, and potentially impacting the public safety and I’m hopeful the department will continue to evaluate this and determine whether or not it’s really working,” Flexer told Barnes.
But Barnes maintained that he believes the “model is more cost-effective for the state and certainly can be done.” He said in other parts of the country this method has been deployed across much larger geographic areas.
“There’s no compelling reason to believe that that in and of itself jeopardizes public safety,” he said.
In repeating a favorite phrase of the Malloy administration, Barnes told Flexer that “change is hard.” He said that just because people on the front line — in any part of government — are initially frustrated with policy changes, it’s not a reason to undo those changes completely.
Flexer said the complaints she’s hearing from her constituents may not be related to the consolidation of the dispatch centers, but may in fact be a staffing issue.
At the moment it’s unclear which is really causing the problem, but legislative Republicans have promised to make it an issue in the 2014 election. The only two lawmakers to speak up about the issue Thursday were Democrats.
“It won’t be pretty if something happens that could have been avoided and there’s a lawsuit against the state,” Orange said. “Then we will have saved no money.”
Orange, a veteran lawmaker who also sits on the Public Safety Committee, said she was sent by former Speaker Moira Lyons to Harrisburg, Pa. in 2005 to visit a centralized dispatch center.
“At this point in time, Pennsylvania found that it did not work,’ Orange said. “Just keep that in mind as well.”