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OP-ED | Keep Up The Funding: Resident Troopers Vital To Towns

by Terry D. Cowgill | Mar 21, 2014 4:30am
(7) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Town News, New Hartford, Winsted, Law Enforcement, Opinion

As the General Assembly considers where to whack away in its interminable quest to balance the state’s books, the talk inevitably turns to law enforcement — if only grudgingly. After all, no one wants people’s lives to be in more danger just because taxpayers are in a miserly mood.

That sentiment is especially prevalent in the state’s small towns, where it would be prohibitively expensive to start and maintain municipal police departments. Enter the Connecticut State Police. In the absence of the county sheriffs departments so many other states have, the state police and the General Assembly saw a law-enforcement void and established the resident state trooper program in 1947.

Currently, there are 110 resident troopers in 56 towns. Some towns have more than one trooper and still others have municipal police departments that work with resident troopers. As of 2011 — the most recent year for which I could find figures — the program cost a total of $14.6 million, with the towns’ share totaling almost $10 million.

The idea was that the state would pay half the cost of a resident trooper who would live in the town and provide a higher level of investigation than the state police could from the nearest barracks. For obvious reasons, the towns were happy with the arrangement and they continue to be, even though their share of the costs has risen to 70 percent over the years.

Five years ago, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed to phase out the state’s share entirely — a cut that would have resulted in a savings of $6 million by 2011. Thankfully, lawmakers did not have the political will to dump the entire cost of the popular program onto the towns, although three years ago the state began requiring towns to reimburse the state 100 percent for overtime.

And the Connecticut Council of Small Towns — aptly shortened to COST — has noted that recently there’s been a dramatic spike in the cost of trooper fringe benefits the towns must pay for — at a time when municipal aid from the state has flattened. In some cases, the troopers’ benefits are double the cost of what town employees receive. Unfortunately, the state routinely notifies towns late in the fiscal year about the increases, resulting in shortfalls in municipal budgets that had already been set.

The council is looking to get the state to lower the town’s share of overtime and fringe benefits. And they want the state to give earlier notice of how much the benefits will cost so that they can plan accordingly.

COST says the program “if local costs are reined in — is a win-win for both the state and our local communities.” I’m not so sure larger municipalities, who pay for almost all of their policing costs, would agree. Why should bankrupt Winsted, which had to enact a supplemental tax just to keep its schools open, foot almost the entire bill to man its municipal police force, while next door the relatively affluent New Hartford pays only 70 percent of the cost of its two troopers?

As painful as it would be for small towns like mine to pay the full cost of the resident troopers, it would still be far cheaper than starting a full service town police department.

Where I work in Berkshire County, Mass., there is no resident trooper program. Even a tiny town like Egremont (population 1,200) has its own police department with a full-time chief and several officers who work full- and part-time, at an annual cost of more than $300,000 a year — not counting what it cost to build the town’s brand-new stand-alone police station. This in a town with an annual budget of about only $2.1 million. A comparable town in Connecticut would either have no police protection beyond the nearest barracks (e.g. Falls Village) or one resident trooper at a cost of about $100,000 a year.

Advice to the General Assembly: continue the program at current levels of funding. Providing 30 percent of the costs is fair since smaller towns tend to have smaller tax bases. Also pass state Rep. Craig Miner’s bill allowing small towns to share resident state troopers. And while you’re at it, pass Sen. Kevin Witkos’ bill requiring the state to provide advance notice to towns of fringe-benefit cost increases for the resident troopers.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(7) Comments

posted by: Stingy Blue | March 21, 2014  8:03am

Great article.  The relatively small cost of this program to the state provides a great benefit to CT towns and taxpayers.

posted by: Matt from CT | March 21, 2014  10:10am

Massachusetts has a law which requires each town with a population over 1,500 to have a local police force.

It doesn’t need to be a full-time department, and to support the needs of these small communities Massachusetts still has a “Reserve Intermediate Police Officer” level of training that requires 240 hours to complete, usually provided in the form of evening and weekend classes.

Connecticut has eliminated part-time police training; the only route to certification is attendance at a 5 month long residential training program at the municipal police academy followed by additional field training—a total over 1,000 hours on a full time basis.

(In 1984 when law enforcement powers upon election or appointment were eliminated and “POST” (police officer standards and training) certification was required, the minimum hours for full law enforcement powers was 480 hours, and could be taken in four 120 hour “blocks” each of which provided more powers, with a requirement that officers be pursuing the completion of all four blocks)

Massachusetts also splits ticket revenue with towns 50/50, while all tickets written under state statutes in Connecticut go to the General Fund.  For better or worse, that provides a way for small towns to help offset their costs in Mass.

Miner’s bill, if it provides the flexibility to share multiple Troopers, would be very interesting—three or four small towns sharing a Sergeant and four Troopers acting as a unit would provide quite a flexible and significant presence beyond just one Trooper, one town.

posted by: Matt from CT | March 21, 2014  10:11am

Also, go up to Canada and you’d be hard pressed to find a city with a population under 40,000 that has it’s own police force.

Almost all municipalities contract for coverage with the RCMP (Mounties), Ontario Provincial Police, or Surete Quebec. 

That’s the better model for Connecticut than one town, one Chief that far too many pursue.

posted by: Historian | March 21, 2014  5:19pm

Note the strange behavior in having a police chief for each town. What could be the real reason ?  Is it really necessary to have a senior, highly paid and benefited “chief”  to supervise ten, twenty or thirty cops as most towns have? Is each town that “special”” or is it to make sure the “good ole boys” stay in charge.?    What does make sense is to have police districts of three, five or more towns depending on geography and road networks with a single “chief” or (so called) resident trooper, a group of detectives and the rest street cops that cover their “own town” on a regular basis. This would save ten to twenty percent and gut the current standard “political policing that occurs in every town.

posted by: ASTANVET | March 22, 2014  7:49am

these are vital to towns because the state has imposed POST rules on them.  If a town could have their own elected sheriff or town constable, they could manage the affairs of their own geography.  All these regulations and rules are bankrupting the state, the towns and the citizens (tax payers).  Follow the money, you’ll find the monopoly and usually the crony who knows someone in the State government!

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | March 22, 2014  9:05am

Without counties like other states where Sheriffs provide rural/small town law enforcement, CT has only the State Police.  Since CT State cops have these greater roles than other states’ Highway patrols they’ve gotten expensive.  Perhaps we could pass a law allowing multi-town compacts for police services?

posted by: ASTANVET | March 24, 2014  9:15am

Dirty Jobs - that is EXACTLY what we need!  Small local government.  The CSP with extensive state wide powers is not held accountable by the towns they serve!