Tyre Nichols
Credit: Rivers, Cagle Cartoons / CTNewsJunkie via Cagle Cartoons / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

It goes without saying that being a police officer is a hard job. It’s stressful. The risks of physical harm are greater than all but a few other professions. Often, your loved ones are wondering when they’ll get “the call” informing them that the cop in the family is in the hospital or will never be coming home.

This is likely the reason why states such as Connecticut have tried to make compensation for the job of state trooper attractive and competitive, until recently offering most of them full pension retirement benefits after 20 years (it’s been 25 since 2017 for new recruits). But even if we give them most of what they want, there are still hurdles to clear.

A string of police brutality incidents over the past dozen years have shaken public confidence in the police nationwide. The most recent incident last week in which five officers beat a young man to death on a Memphis, Tenn., street was tragic and sickening.

The rash of highly publicized and racially charged police attacks on unarmed civilians — disproportionately people of color — have not only prompted protests both peaceful and violent, but they have prompted lawmakers in some states to pass legislation to reform the system.

Legislators in Hartford passed a police accountability bill in 2020 and it was signed into law by Gov. Lamont in July of that year, only a couple of months after the death of George Floyd, who suffered a cardiac arrest while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 10 minutes. That event prompted a wave of unrest across the country.

For police in Connecticut, among the most objectionable provisions of the new law were new limitations on the invocation of qualified immunity, which in most cases shields police from being sued by civilians for misconduct in the line of duty. In addition, police officials across the state insisted the law would make recruitment into the profession even more difficult. Two Republican lawmakers have subsequently proposed revisions to the act.

During the 2022 election campaign, the Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police and several high-profile municipal police department unions subsequently endorsed Lamont’s Republican challenger, Bob Stefanowski, who had denounced the new law. The State Police union had endorsed Lamont in 2018, but withdrew it four years later. And needless to say, members of the General Assembly who voted for the law — almost all of them Democrats — faced stiff opposition from staunch police supporters.

Now, however, it’s time to kiss and make up. Last week the General Assembly approved a new four-year contract for State Police — retroactive to last July — that provides generous wages, bonuses, and enhanced benefits that will cost the state around $46.7 million in its first three years, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis. It goes to show you that if lawmakers noisily pass legislation that angers state employee unions, they can always make up for it later by quietly opening the state’s wallet.

With MIRA’s Trash-to-Energy Plant Gone, Connecticut Needs to Focus On Recycling & Food Waste

Few things fascinate me more than the seemingly simple and mundane aspects of our daily lives. To wit, what do we do with our garbage? I’ve been thinking about this since the early 90s when the dump in my Northwest Corner town closed and was converted to a transfer station.

After looking into it, I learned that the town’s solid waste would be going to the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, a quasi-public agency established by then-Gov. Thomas Meskill in 1973 to deal with Connecticut’s burgeoning solid-waste disposal problem (yes, it was even a problem 50 years ago).

After a scandal, CRRA was rebranded the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority. Until recently, MIRA accepted recycling and operated a trash-to-energy plant that took garbage from its approximately 100 member towns, burned it to generate electricity and effectively disposed of about 35% of the state’s municipal solid waste.

MIRA’s aging trash-to-energy plant broke down in 2018 and was out of commission for several months, causing member towns to scramble. MIRA then came up with a plan to replace the rickety plant to the tune of $330 million – a plan the Lamont administration quickly put the kibosh on.

Now MIRA subsequently turned its facility into a glorified transfer station, leaving the towns to ship their garbage to other locales, including places like Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Connecticut is shipping more than 860,000 tons of municipal solid waste to out-of-state facilities annually.

The added expense is putting a burden on towns while the practice itself appears unsustainable, given the fact that it’s extremely difficult to identify potential sites and open new landfills. Towns that used to belong to MIRA are imploring residents to generate less garbage through fastidious recycling and other efforts.

Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont used the MIRA plant as a backdrop for an announcement that he wants to explore incentives to packaging manufacturers to increase recycling and reusability. Even so, that plan would still leave the state with a massive amount of trash to dispose of annually.

In my retirement, I have taken on a part-time job as a gate attendant for the brand-new, state-of-the-art regional transfer station in Salisbury. It has been an eye-opening experience. Until now, I was only familiar with my own disposal and recycling habits. But in three weeks of working there, I’ve been surprised at just how much waste and recycling individuals and haulers bring into the station during my four-hour shifts.

I agree with the consensus view that the key is not only increasing recycling rates but getting food scraps out of the waste stream. Dense with water, the leftovers are heavy and add greatly to the per-ton disposal cost. As my colleague Christine Stuart has reported, last year the state awarded nearly $5 million to 15 municipalities and three regional groups investigating ways to divert things like food scraps from the waste stream.

Many towns, including mine, have started food waste projects and composting programs to achieve the goal of reducing solid waste. Typically, taking measures to protect the environment come at a cost. This is one of those cases where being stewards of the environment and acting responsibly actually saves money. I would think 99% of us could agree on that.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, is a Substack columnist and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him here.

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