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Flexer, Williams Team Up To Reverse Police Dispatch Consolidation

by Hugh McQuaid | Mar 11, 2014 3:00pm
(12) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Public Safety

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Rep. Mae Flexer

Lawmakers pushed Tuesday to reverse the Malloy administration’s consolidation of State Police dispatch centers even as the process has been put on hold to allow a review by the new public safety commissioner.

The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection began two years ago to reduce the number of state police dispatch centers in the state from 12 to 5 to create efficiencies. Recently, Troop D in Danielson, Troop K in Colchester, and Troop E in Montville merged their dispatch operations with Troop C in Tolland. Dispatch oeprations in the western portion of the state already have been consolidated.

The consolidations have been controversial, drawing staunch opposition from the Connecticut State Police Union and concerns from lawmakers whose towns have been impacted. The process was suspended after Commissioner Reuben Bradford retired and Dora Schriro took over as head of the agency. Schriro told lawmakers last week she was reviewing the merger plans.

The legislature’s Public Safety Committee is considering a bill that would require Schriro to report back on the process next year, but several lawmakers called Tuesday for a more immediate action.

“I’m afraid that we’ll be here next year talking about a real tragedy that’s occurred and that’s unacceptable,” Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said after testifying at a public hearing on the bill.

Flexer was joined by Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, both said the consolidation of Troop D has directly impacted their constituents.

Williams, who has the authority to determine which bills are raised in the Senate for a vote, said he will work to have the Public Safety Committee’s bill amended to reverse the consolidation process rather than study it.

“The previous system of local dispatch was not broken. This new fix is not better and it should be reversed,” he said. “. . . I don’t think we even need a study. My advice is let’s go back to a system that worked.”

The lawmakers cited recent incidents which they said showed delays in state police response times as a result of the consolidations or difficulties reporting crimes because of reduced hours at state police barracks.

“At Troop D alone, these incidents have ranged from the inability to report a road rage incident to a sexual assault being unreported,” Flexer said. “These incidents have largely occurred because the Troop D barracks are now only accessible to the public between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.”

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Sen. Donald Williams

Other lawmakers are seeking to give Schriro, who was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January, time to get her bearings and decide how to best handle the consolidation issue. Sen. Joan Hartley, co-chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, expressed confidence in Schriro, who has headed up correction departments throughout the country.

“[Schriro] has impressed me very much,” Hartley said. “. . . She has gotten the message. Her own assessment is leading her in another place than where we were previously going.”

In a Tuesday phone interview, Schriro declined to give her assessment of the consolidation effort after a preliminary evaluation, but said she believed the “top-to-bottom review” she has undertaken is the appropriate way to proceed. She said she expects to brief Malloy with her early findings soon.

“My review is moving with as much speed as possible. I’ve set a pretty high bar there. I’m committed to briefing the governor at the end of this month,” she said. “It’s clearly on the minds of folks in the legislature and people in various municipalities as well as my own staff.”

Schriro points out that, although it’s on hold, the consolidation process is in different stages of implementation in areas throughout the state. Even if she wanted to, she could not issue an order to abruptly reverse the mergers. Much of the equipment that was previously installed at merged dispatch centers has already been moved.

“My job right now is to get everybody the very best information possible so we can make the best decision,” she said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo Connecticut State Police Union President Andrew Matthews, who clashed frequently with the department brass under Bradford, said he has the utmost confidence in Schriro. But Matthews agreed with Williams and Flexer that reversing the consolidations can’t wait another year.

“We don’t have time for a study. We don’t. But we have full faith in Commissioner Shriro,” he said. “I’ve met with her more in three weeks than I met with Commissioner Bradford and [Col. Danny] Stebbins in three years.”

Matthews called Schriro a responsive leader and said he hoped she would take action on her own to remedy the situation and assure public and trooper safety. He was still critical of the decision making process that led to the consolidation effort in the first place.

In 2012, Matthews’ union members condemned the leadership of Bradford and Stebbins in an overwhelming vote of no confidence following their decision to consolidate the dispatch centers. On Tuesday, he said the growing support among lawmakers for reversing the mergers substantiated the union’s concerns.

“It was easy for the colonel to attack union leadership and criticize us and say we were over-reactive. It was easy for him to say that stuff, but I wouldn’t suggest that Senator Williams is over reacting,” he said.

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(12) Comments

posted by: Historian | March 11, 2014  3:09pm

The union wants to keep those centers open to absorb unproductive staties that cannot hack real police duties..

posted by: dano860 | March 11, 2014  5:11pm

The other night my wife waited for just over 45 minutes for a trooper to arrive at an incident in Woodstock. I arrived and tried to free the vehicle from a snow bank but we had to call a wrecker that arrived 20 minutes later.
When she called the 911 operator the call was switched and transferred three times before getting Troop “C” in Willington, 35 miles away through the woods of eastern Ct. If it was an emergency there was a lot of lost opportunity for the police to be involved. Granted she wasn’t hurt and it wasn’t an emergency but there is a serious problem with their plan as it stands.

posted by: Salmo | March 11, 2014  6:27pm

At long last. A little bit of common sense.

posted by: Matt from CT | March 11, 2014  6:31pm

What I wrote for another site to summarize this from the perspective of Northeast Connecticut (Troop D, Danielson)...and not by any means exhaustive on the problems this cause:

The dispatchers all moved to Troop C.  But this had a cascade of badness and unnecessariness.

One thing this meant is where the Dispatcher used to be able to immediately radio a trooper for a response while still taking information, and often working with the desk Trooper to evaluate how serious the situation was and immediately escalate it, now there are “call takers” who enter the information, then the incident is handed over to a “dispatcher” who just dispatches, supervised by a Trooper whose now having to evaluate how the calls for four Troops are being handled…even though he rarely works with most of the Troopers & Sergeants on duty.

This also meant all warrants formerly kept on file at Troop D had to move to Troop C, because whenever a police agency (nationally) gets a computer hit the person they have stopped has a warrant out for their arrest they need to call the agency holding the warrant to verify it.

Since you couldn’t assure there would be someone at Troop D to answer the phone, all the warrants moved to Tolland.  So now if Troop D arrests someone on a Troop D warrant, they have to drive out to Tolland to process the prisoner since there may be special instructions on the warrant from the court, and they also have to physically mark the warrant as served so the poor guy doesn’t get released and then arrested again on the same warrant.

With no Trooper to work the desk with the Dispatcher at Troop D, and to provide security at the barracks, you can no longer hold prisoners at Troop D, so after they process someone (not arrested on a warrant) if no one is at Troop D to bail them out, then a Trooper has to drive them to either Troop C or down to Corrigan Correctional Center in Montville to be held until bailed or court appearance. 

Also without a Trooper at D around the clock, things like supervised transfers of kids between parents who otherwise have no contact orders out between them can’t take place at Troop D since you can’t assure a Trooper is there except at shift change—so this has meant folks from other towns have started to use Putnam & Plainfield PD lobbys to meet and exchange their kids.

Regionalization and consolidation can be good, but this is a prime example of too much centralization increasing expenses and reducing service levels.

posted by: Lawrence | March 11, 2014  6:41pm

Wow, Historian, Maybe wanna re-think your knee-jerk simplicity now?

posted by: Matt from CT | March 11, 2014  6:45pm

>The union wants to keep
>those centers open to
>absorb unproductive staties
>that cannot hack real
>police duties..

Clearly written by someone completely unfamiliar with the old system that finally Williams and Flexer are rallying to restore.

Each Troop had 1 Dispatcher and a “Desk Trooper”—in the past this was normally the shift supervising Sergeant unless he was needed for a serious incident, in which case a road trooper would be called in to cover.

Over the last 15 years or so this transitioned to having the Sergeants normally on the road (a good thing), and having a senior Trooper who had worked in that Troop for a while normally assigned to the desk—effectively a stepping stone especially for those looking to be promoted to Sergeant.

Unless the Trooper was busy with a security issue—dealing with an unruly prisoner or a walk-in emergency—he worked side-by-side with the dispatcher to take calls, immediately dispatch serious calls, and could help evaluate how serious a call was.

The “new” system some dispatchers are exclusively call takers.  Take the info, type it in.  Another dispatcher gets the call information, not the caller to talk to, and tries to prioritize it and send it out.  A Trooper is still trying to supervise to make sure calls are appropriately handled, but now for four Troops and three of them he doesn’t regularly work in or with the Troopers & Sergeants on duty.

Can they work some kinks out and become better?  Sure, this is how very large cities like Boston or New York have to handle 911 with many discrete steps.

But it is unnecessary degree of complexity and consolidation for the CSP. 

Troop D serves an area with 82,500 residents in 13 towns.  Of this, 64,500 residents are primarily served by Troop D, with 1 and 1/4 town served by their own local Police Departments (Plainfield PD, and the Putnam Special Services District PD serves most residents but only a small geographic area of Putnam)

That’s a VERY reasonable population to serve with a Barracks open around the clock, 1 Dispatcher & 1 Desk Trooper, and typical shift patrol strength of 1 Sergeant and 4 Troopers on the road.  They are augmented locally by the detectives in the Troop and a “Quality of Life Task Force” of a Sergeant + 4 Troopers who tend to work evenings and focus on serving warrants and snaring drug dealers. 

I doubt you’d find any city in Connecticut over 60,000 in population working with 1 Dispatcher, 1 Sergeant, and 5 Officers per shift.  This was an already lean operation made too lean by consolidation.

posted by: dano860 | March 11, 2014  9:22pm

Matt, you may know this but FYI, the Putnam Special Services District is 3 square miles in area. Yup! small but active.

posted by: Michele | March 12, 2014  8:27am

Response times have been greatly reduced. In some cases, police have failed to arrive at all or people have been unable to get through. Also, the reduced hours of Troops means that when someone needs to report a crime or is looking for sanctuary from an attacker there is nowhere for that person to go. I pay taxes for essential services; police and fire departments are essential services. Yet, while we are building lots of pretty projects all over the state, including a Coast Guard Museum, we are reducing essential services to taxpayers. Poor leadership in Connecticut where the economy is ranked 50th. It isn’t looking good for this administration at all.

posted by: Matt from CT | March 12, 2014  10:47am

>or is looking for sanctuary
>from an attacker there is
>nowhere for that person to
>go

This is something I was taught—and used once when an intoxicated woman mistook my truck for that of someone else and began following me…so I called 911 on the cellphone and headed to the Troop, knowing at least there would be a Trooper there. 

It’s not like you drive home in a situation like that.  Going to drive around randomly waiting for a Trooper to catch up, or park in a parking lot and wait?

As one Killingly town councilor mused on WINY, at least there’s a 24 hour Walmart in Brooklyn now, so I guess you’re expected to go there now as a refuge.

posted by: BrianO | March 12, 2014  11:21am

The conversation is always about money, even when it is not.  Those opposed to change will always sell with fear, which is not the way to make public policy.

The new Commissioner has overseen a reduction in traditional criminal justice spending in New York City while crime has also been reduced dramatically.  I personally believe she is qualified to address this issue and people should give her a chance to review the situation.

posted by: dano860 | March 12, 2014  4:43pm

I will let Matt expound on this but at this point in time there have been no savings, as heard on WINY just this morning.

posted by: Matt from CT | March 12, 2014  7:00pm

>The conversation is always
>about money, even when it >is not.

“Money” is how this was justified initially—even though plenty of voice were raised in opposition to Ruben & Stebbin’s assertions this would save money, something even they now admit it doesn’t do.

This isn’t necessarily something Ruben thought up out of the blue—it’s been considered for a very long time.

Going back at least into the 1970s when the current Troop L was built with a communications area big enough to serve the entire Western District (and Troop K in Colchester had enough room to consolidate all of the Eastern District), this has been discussed…and rejected by state police leadership as an idea worth considering but never right to do.

Troop G has remained exempt from this consolidation effort, despite the fact I don’t believe they’re the primary police agency in any town in their Troop, due the special joint operations center with ConnDOT that all those cameras along I-95 feed into.  Really, a very impressive center (or at least for it’s day 20 years ago when it was built).

In no small part this issue is created by the decision in 1959 to abolish Counties in Connecticut, which leaves the State Police as the only effective level for regional, rural police services. 

ME, NH, and VT all to varying degrees split rural patrol duties between the State Police and County Sheriffs.

MA require any community over 1,500 in population to have at least a part-time police force, and to support that they still have a system to certify part-time police officers after taking 240 hours of training in evening classes; Connecticut requires over 1,000 hours, including field training, for initial certification and it must be taken on a full-time basis even if the officer is to work part-time after graduation.

There aren’t alternatives in Connecticut to state police in small towns other than being the first guinea pig to start a Regional PD, something which has never actually been attempted yet in Connecticut.  And which would cost at least $3M/year to fund at a level providing round the clock service.