Connecticut public safety chief James Rovella and State Police Col. Stavros Mellekas will step aside, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Wednesday, adding the departure of top State Police brass to recent turmoil created by an ongoing scandal involving falsified traffic records.
Lamont named former Yale University Police Chief Ronnell Higgins as the next commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection during an afternoon press conference in a state Capitol briefing room. Higgins, who now serves as the university’s director of public safety, will need to be confirmed by the state legislature.
“Every four years I think it’s time to have a fresh start and that’s what we’re going to do with public safety,” Lamont said.
The leadership turnover, effective next month, comes amid several inquiries into allegations that State Police troopers falsified at least 25,966 traffic records submitted between 2014 and 2021 to the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, which released an incriminating audit in June.
That controversy has prompted several investigations including one by the federal Department of Justice as well as an independent review commissioned by Lamont.
The administration’s response to the controversy has prompted votes of no confidence in both Rovella and Mellekas by the Connecticut State Police Union, which accused the men of failing to defend troopers under their command. The union took a similar vote against Rovella in 2020 over promotion criteria and the administration’s support of a police accountability law.
Rovella and Mellekas have been in their posts since the start of Lamont’s first term in 2019. Rovella, a former Hartford Police chief, began his career with that agency in 1981 and worked as a homicide and cold case detective before becoming an inspector with the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office. He was appointed chief inspector of that office in 2009.
“James has been a very good friend for me over these last four years,” Lamont said. “We were in the foxhole together. We were there during COVID. We were there when all of our state police had to be out there, patrolling and keeping us safe at the same time I was telling everybody else to stay safe and stay home. He’s somebody who represents the very best in policing.”
Rovella thanked Lamont for both the position and the kind words.
“It hasn’t been easy though,” he said. “As he mentioned, COVID. I’m so proud of the six divisions that work for Emergency Services and Public Protection and they never stopped during COVID… Everyone operated perfectly and professionally and with a desire to serve the citizens of Connecticut.”
Higgins, Yale’s associate vice president for public safety and community outreach, has served as the school’s police chief since 2011. As the agency’s chief and director of public safety, he has overseen 93 sworn officers and a Public Safety Department of more than 180 employees, according to a university biography.
Higgins thanked the governor and his predecessor for their votes of confidence. He told reporters he expected latitude to name a replacement for Mellekas as State Police colonel.
“I am looking forward to listening, learning and leading the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection,” Higgins said. “I want to visit all the troops and I want to continue to ensure that the state of Connecticut is safe.”
Lamont said he expected a smooth transition from “one good man to another good man.”