Lawmakers pushed Tuesday to reverse the Malloy administration’s consolidation of State Police dispatch centers even as the process has been put on hold to allow a review by the new public safety commissioner.
The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection began two years ago to reduce the number of state police dispatch centers in the state from 12 to 5 to create efficiencies. Recently, Troop D in Danielson, Troop K in Colchester, and Troop E in Montville merged their dispatch operations with Troop C in Tolland. Dispatch oeprations in the western portion of the state already have been consolidated.
The consolidations have been controversial, drawing staunch opposition from the Connecticut State Police Union and concerns from lawmakers whose towns have been impacted. The process was suspended after Commissioner Reuben Bradford retired and Dora Schriro took over as head of the agency. Schriro told lawmakers last week she was reviewing the merger plans.
The legislature’s Public Safety Committee is considering a bill that would require Schriro to report back on the process next year, but several lawmakers called Tuesday for a more immediate action.
“I’m afraid that we’ll be here next year talking about a real tragedy that’s occurred and that’s unacceptable,” Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said after testifying at a public hearing on the bill.
Flexer was joined by Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, both said the consolidation of Troop D has directly impacted their constituents.
Williams, who has the authority to determine which bills are raised in the Senate for a vote, said he will work to have the Public Safety Committee’s bill amended to reverse the consolidation process rather than study it.
“The previous system of local dispatch was not broken. This new fix is not better and it should be reversed,” he said. “. . . I don’t think we even need a study. My advice is let’s go back to a system that worked.”
The lawmakers cited recent incidents which they said showed delays in state police response times as a result of the consolidations or difficulties reporting crimes because of reduced hours at state police barracks.
“At Troop D alone, these incidents have ranged from the inability to report a road rage incident to a sexual assault being unreported,” Flexer said. “These incidents have largely occurred because the Troop D barracks are now only accessible to the public between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.”
Other lawmakers are seeking to give Schriro, who was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January, time to get her bearings and decide how to best handle the consolidation issue. Sen. Joan Hartley, co-chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, expressed confidence in Schriro, who has headed up correction departments throughout the country.
“[Schriro] has impressed me very much,” Hartley said. “. . . She has gotten the message. Her own assessment is leading her in another place than where we were previously going.”
In a Tuesday phone interview, Schriro declined to give her assessment of the consolidation effort after a preliminary evaluation, but said she believed the “top-to-bottom review” she has undertaken is the appropriate way to proceed. She said she expects to brief Malloy with her early findings soon.
“My review is moving with as much speed as possible. I’ve set a pretty high bar there. I’m committed to briefing the governor at the end of this month,” she said. “It’s clearly on the minds of folks in the legislature and people in various municipalities as well as my own staff.”
Schriro points out that, although it’s on hold, the consolidation process is in different stages of implementation in areas throughout the state. Even if she wanted to, she could not issue an order to abruptly reverse the mergers. Much of the equipment that was previously installed at merged dispatch centers has already been moved.
“My job right now is to get everybody the very best information possible so we can make the best decision,” she said.
Connecticut State Police Union President Andrew Matthews, who clashed frequently with the department brass under Bradford, said he has the utmost confidence in Schriro. But Matthews agreed with Williams and Flexer that reversing the consolidations can’t wait another year.
“We don’t have time for a study. We don’t. But we have full faith in Commissioner Shriro,” he said. “I’ve met with her more in three weeks than I met with Commissioner Bradford and [Col. Danny] Stebbins in three years.”
Matthews called Schriro a responsive leader and said he hoped she would take action on her own to remedy the situation and assure public and trooper safety. He was still critical of the decision making process that led to the consolidation effort in the first place.
In 2012, Matthews’ union members condemned the leadership of Bradford and Stebbins in an overwhelming vote of no confidence following their decision to consolidate the dispatch centers. On Tuesday, he said the growing support among lawmakers for reversing the mergers substantiated the union’s concerns.
“It was easy for the colonel to attack union leadership and criticize us and say we were over-reactive. It was easy for him to say that stuff, but I wouldn’t suggest that Senator Williams is over reacting,” he said.