Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora Schriro reversed part of a controversial policy implemented by her predecessor and ordered Monday that all state police barracks be continually staffed by troopers.
Trooper coverage at state police barracks throughout the eastern and western districts of the state has been limited to normal business hours since the department began implementing a consolidation of state police dispatch functions about two years ago. Schriro put the process on hold pending her review when she took over earlier this year.
Schriro’s order, announced during a press conference at her department’s headquarters in Middletown, will not impact dispatch services but will require that at least one trooper be present at each of the barracks at all times. This will allow the department to keep the barracks open to walk-in traffic from people seeking help.
“As a result of this action all of the state’s troops will once again remain open around the clock,” Schriro said. “. . . This straight forward plan will afford all Connecticut residents the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their troop is open and immediately available to them all of the time no matter where they live in the state.”
The action, which became effective Monday, will not cost the department any additional resources, she said. The idea is to have state troopers re-assigned to the barracks as they are making phone calls on investigations, writing reports, or other administrative duties.
Eastern District Major Michael Darcy said the public have voiced concerns over the troop staffing and the agency has heard them “loud and clear.”
“This allows us to address that while at the same time ensuring that those troopers are completing necessary work inside the building . . . Some reports that these troopers write are 15-20 pages long. It’s not conducive to draft that on a laptop computer from the seat of a Crown Victoria cruiser,” he said.
The move addresses some, but not all of the concerns raised by the department’s consolidation of dispatch centers. At a legislative hearing on the issue earlier this month, lawmakers from the eastern region of the state voiced opposition to the mergers based in part on the fact that troops in their districts were no longer open 24/7.
Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said the limited hours have caused some crimes to go unreported in the Troop D coverage area. Flexer has been an outspoken opponent of the consolidation and the barrack closures.
“I’m grateful to the commissioner for this decision and her thoughtful analysis of consolidated dispatch overall,” Flexer said Monday.
She said she’s happy about Schriro’s decision to open the barracks 24/7 because of the safety concern. She recounted an incident of road rage where a driver sought refuge at Troop D and when he arrived he found the doors were locked. There was an emergency phone available, but Flexer said that didn’t make him feel safe from a driver he thought may have still been chasing him.
But Schriro’s order does not alleviate concerns about police response times. The troopers assigned to barracks after hours will not be responding to calls in those areas. Those duties will be left to troopers who will still be dispatched out of the consolidated centers. Schriro said she is still in the process of reviewing those mergers and said it was premature Monday for her to comment on what action she will take on that issue.
Connecticut State Police Union President Andrew Matthews, a vocal opponent of the dispatch consolidations under former Commissioner Reuben Bradford, praised Schriro for taking steps to scale back the process. Although the union is still advocating for returning dispatch functions to local troops, Matthews said Monday’s order was a good first step.
He said the order helps response times “in the sense of the public that comes to the troop and now won’t have a locked door with the lights off. That’s critical.” But the order does not address all the challenges posed by the dispatch mergers, he said.
“It doesn’t change the lack of proper information and the delay in proper information getting properly out to troops in the field [and its affect] our response times,” he said. “Although this is a very positive step in the right direction . . . it’s only one step in the process.”
Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, which is the union that represents the dispatchers, also is hoping Schriro decides to take further action to reverse the consolidations. He said the mergers have made working conditions difficult for dispatchers. Many have had mandated overtime assigned to them, he said.
“[Schriro] clearly acknowledged that she’s doing a top-to-bottom review. We will be meeting with her very soon to discuss the direct impacts on dispatchers. I think she made first step today, that’s not to say it solves the problem,” he said.