Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

The ranks of Connecticut state police supervisors have dwindled significantly as the agency wrestles with a staffing shortage, the state public safety commissioner told lawmakers during a hearing last week.

“We’re down to one major. We have no captains. We’re down to 21 lieutenants and 99 sergeants,” Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella said during a virtual hearing of the Appropriations Committee. Rovella said the agency also has one colonel and three lieutenant colonels.

“That’s a huge decrease in supervision and command staff from numerous years ago,” Rovella said.

Ranking member of the committee, Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said he was troubled by the shortage of supervisors in the agency, which he said leaves the state police in a “very precarious position.”

“How do we draw the necessary leadership personnel? It’s one thing to … get certified as a trooper but are there leadership programs that we can fast-forward to move some folks up the ranks? Because we’re going to have a lot of new people. We’re going to have a lot of tough situations,” Formica said.

Rovella said there was no easy answer to the situation, which was complicated. The agency has budgeted for eight majors and six captains but it cannot just create them. While majors may be appointed, captains and lieutenants must be promoted through a testing process administered by the Department of Administrative Services.

Sergeants also must be promoted through a test. Back in August, the Connecticut State Police Union successfully sued the state to stop the promotion of 27 sergeants who were selected through a process which favored interviews over test results.

The union “blocked our making of sergeants and put us back to step one with DAS, who is constructing a new test,” Rovella said. “It’s one of those things we’re going to have to live through. They’re very difficult but we have to rely on DAS for the testing.”

To make matters worse, the agency is also short on troopers to promote. Rovella said the current shortage is caused by budgetary constraints going back eight years and staffing shortages lead to inflated overtime pay.

The hearing of the legislature’s spending committee comes on the heels of a state auditors’ report issued last month, which found that overtime pay had outpaced the base salaries of 56% of the state troopers audited. According to the audit, the agency spent more than $26 million in overtime pay in 2019.

Rovella told lawmakers that he would need 1,000 sworn troopers to reduce overtime costs to a more manageable level. At the moment, there are 857.

Although 83 new troopers will graduate from the academy in the coming week and another class of 120 is set to begin training in January, those new additions may just keep up with attrition. Rovella told lawmakers that more than 150 troopers will be eligible for retirement in the next six months. That number will increase to more than 250 by July.

“You have to hire troopers way back when. It takes well over a year to make a trooper. There has to be a lot of forethought,” he said. “We are pushing against the tide. We’ll eventually get over the top.”

Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said it was fortunate the legislature had funded the additional recruit classes.

“Otherwise you’d really be in a world of hurt right now,” she said.

Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, asked Rovella whether he believed the recent law on police accountability would spur more retirements within the state police ranks. Rovella said it was too soon to tell.

“Quite frankly, any impact on public safety will come if my hiring and my projected classes cease to be funded,” he said. “If I can’t continually keep up with my attrition by hiring classes and training classes, that would be the impact.”