AP NEWS

Public safety chief on lookout for more troopers

February 20, 2019

HARTFORD — In the past 10 years, the Connecticut State Police force has shrunk by nearly 30 percent.

In 2018, each of the 11 state police troops lost at least 12 percent of their staff, according to a recent agency staffing report.

These numbers are concerning to James Rovella, particularly with the additional attrition he forecasts in the next three to four years and growing struggles to hire new police.

“You have almost 400 troopers in the next four years to five years that can attrit out,” said Rovella, who in December was nominated by Gov. Ned Lamont to be the next commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which oversees the state police. “Whether they will or not is something to be seen, but all indications are, we could lose a majority of them.”

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If those decreases happen, state police personnel could fall to around 500 officers in 2022 — less than half its 2008 size. About 920 sworn troopers are now on duty. In 2012, the General Assembly eliminated a state law that used to require state police had at least 1,248 members.

Rovella submitted Lamont a “robust request” for funding, he said Tuesday. “It’s something I inherited,” he said. “The process should have started three years ago, at least.”

Lamont will announce his state budget Wednesday, including appropriations for all state agencies. The budget will then have to be approved by the legislature, and could change drastically in their hands.

Given the state’s fiscal woes, Rovella, Hartford’s former chief of police, said he’s used to dire financial circumstances. He’s dealt with this situation before.

“I’ve already started researching some other options,” said Rovella. “Coming out of Hartford, we lost 35 percent of our folks — normal attrition a majority of them — by a chief and a mayor from 20 years before.”

Rovella is looking at more recruiting and police academies in new locations to fight the staff reductions, he said.

But the shrinking force is already having effects. In 2018, many state police worked significant amounts of overtime, sometimes taking home more than $100,000 in overtime pay.

“It wasn’t typical that troopers would get ordered in all that often,” said Andrew Matthews, executive director of the Connecticut State Police Union. “But now it’s a weekly occurrence. I’ve heard from some troopers that they are being ordered in twice a week.”

Some troops have average response times that are nearing the 15 minute maximum set by state statute. Troop K, based in Colchester, had an average response time of 12.28 minutes in 2018. It also had a 12 percent staff reduction, leaving it with 59 officers for 360 square miles of territory.

Troop B, based in North Canaan, which patrols the Danbury area, had a 12.18 minute average response time in 2018. The troop patrolled 470.5 square miles with 38 officers — a 27 percent reduction.

State troopers provide primary law enforcement services for 79 of Connecticut’s 169 towns and patrol state property and state highways.

In Fairfield County, state troopers based in Bridgeport oversee traffic on Interstate-95 and the Merritt Parkway, and handle the busiest 911 communications dispatch center in the state. They took 158,860 emergency calls in 2018.

Rovella promised Tuesday that staff reductions would not cause interruptions in service.

“We will make it work for the citizens because that’s what we do,” he said.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson