HARTFORD, CT — A bloody quadruple shooting that took place on the steps of a Bridgeport courthouse last month has prompted the Judicial Branch to pay a half-dozen state troopers overtime to provide security at six courthouses at a cost of $17,819 a week, officials confirmed.
The security detail started Monday at courthouses in Bridgeport, Stamford, New Haven, New Britain, Hartford, and Waterbury, Judicial Branch officials said. One trooper will be located outside one courthouse in each community.
“The visible deterrence factor of a police vehicle in front of a courthouse cannot be underestimated,” Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll told legislators a few weeks ago as he asked for an additional $5.5 million to implement the plan.
But the head of the union representing the roughly 700 state judicial marshals is wondering whether it would be more cost-effective to arm marshals at all 42 of the state’s courthouses.
“This is a temporary fix,” said Joe Gaetano, president of the IBPO Local 731, which represents Connecticut’s judicial marshals. “I believe it stems from the Bridgeport shooting. I guess this is the branch’s way of addressing the issue.”
Carroll and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Robinson walked into the Bridgeport Golden Hill Street courthouse an hour after the shooting on Jan. 27 to find the lobby bloody and staff shaken, Carroll said.
The drive-by shooting occurred as a man who had appeared for a court date was outside waiting for a ride, Carroll said. He was the intended target but three others were also struck by gunfire. The shooting and other “dangerous situations,” including brawls and assaults faced by jurors, staff, and the public, “[reinforce] our resolve to enhance safety and security in and around court buildings.”
Carroll had hoped to secure $5.5 million in additional funding in this fiscal year to pay municipal and state police to patrol the outside of the state’s 42 courthouses on a daily basis. Legislators would have to agree to give the Judicial Branch the additional money as part of their 2020 session budget deliberations.
Carroll was also asking legislators for an additional $1.8 million to hire more marshals and run six training classes a year since retirements and resignations are continually outpacing the number of new hires. He added that the state is down nearly 200 marshals, with supervisors often staffing positions that should be covered by rank and file marshals.
State police are also short-staffed, which prompted Gov. Ned Lamont to give the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which oversees the law enforcement agency, an additional $1.7 million to hire more troopers. Some state police sergeants are among the highest-paid state employees, bringing in upward of $200,000 a year with overtime, according to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s OpenPayroll website.
The overtime that state police will be making on courthouse duty will likely be factored into their pensions, further increasing the cost to taxpayers, Gaetano said. “It makes more fiscal sense to arm marshals who know the buildings.”
The union president is suggesting that a select number of marshals receive firearms certification from the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council, the governing body that provides police certification and training throughout the state.
“We’re talking about armed marshals at the front doors and on the trucks (which transport prisoners to and from court dates),” Gaetano said. “There would be no firearms in our lockups and no firearms inside the courtroom.”
Gaetano estimates that only two or three marshals per courthouse would need to be trained at a cost of about $1,000 per person. Whether those marshals who were armed would be given more pay is debatable. As part of the collective bargaining agreement the marshals are undergoing an objective job evaluation to determine what other states pay marshals for similar work.
The current plan that started Monday only places an officer at one courthouse per community, Gaetano said. “Hartford has nine courthouses, but there’s a trooper at only one.”
The union has brought up the idea of arming marshals over the past few years, Gaetano said. “Unfortunately it takes something like the Bridgeport shooting to highlight the need.”