State police and union differ on plan to reduce casino presence

While the commanding officer of the state police backs a plan to reduce the state police presence at the casinos, the president of the state police union said Tuesday the move could jeopardize public safety.

Starting this week, fewer state police will patrol the casinos on Friday and Saturday nights, part of a plan to cut costs and free up troopers for deployments elsewhere, according to officials. The plan calls for Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal police to pick up the slack at their casinos — Foxwoods Resort Casino, MGM Grand at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Two state police detectives will cover both Foxwoods and MGM Grand, two will cover Mohegan Sun and one state police sergeant will be available to supervise them, officials said. Previously, four detectives were deployed at each of the three casinos on the late weekend shifts.

"Anyone would realize that's not sufficient staffing to protect the public," state police Sgt. Andrew Matthews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union, said in a telephone interview. "We think it's a bad move."

The state police cutbacks come soon after a New Year's Eve incident outside MGM Grand in which detectives used a Taser on a suspect who resisted arrest. During the scuffle, the individual, one of three arrested in the incident, unfastened the strap on a detective's holster, a source with knowledge of the incident said.

On Thanksgiving weekend, state police arrested two people in connection with a melee that police said involved 80 to 100 people. Ledyard police also responded to the scene.

And, in responding to a brawl at MGM Grand last February, a detective sustained broken ribs.

Col. Danny Stebbins, commanding officer of the state police, said last week that it made sense to scale back state police staffing at certain times given the decline in attendance at the casinos and a corresponding reduction in the state police casino unit's caseload. He said state police and tribal officials agreed it could be done "without compromising public safety."

Stebbins said he disagreed with the findings of a 2012 state police staffing study that included recommendations for "minimal" and "optimal" staffing levels at state police divisions and units across the state. The study, a copy of which was obtained by The Day, said the casino unit "can empirically justify an increase … of an additional nine troopers to reach a minimal staffing level."

State and tribal officials have been discussing a greater role for tribal police departments at casinos for about a year, according to Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice in the state Office of Policy and Management. The transition, he said, involves tribal police getting the same certifications as members of municipal police departments.

Virtually all Mohegan tribal police are certified and Mashantucket police are "in the process of getting to that point," Lawlor said.

"What the (public safety) commissioner (Reuben Bradford) has done is evaluate how much staffing is necessary during different times of the day," Lawlor said. "As a general rule, the incidents that occur at the casinos really aren't serious. There are very few serious arrests."

Matthews, the state police union president, questioned whether tribal police have the authority to arrest casino patrons who are not tribal members.

New London State's Attorney Michael Regan said Tuesday they do not.

"Tribal police do not have arrest powers under Connecticut law," he said. "If a suspect is not a tribal member, tribal police have the power to detain him for state police, who will make the arrest. They (tribal police) cannot arrest a nontribal individual to be presented in state court. They can arrest tribal members who will be presented in tribal court."

Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans' chief of staff, said the Mohegan tribal police force has numbered more than 20 for years and that tribal police typically outnumber state police on any given shift at Mohegan Sun.

The Mashantuckets have beefed up their police department in recent months, naming as chief William Dittman, a retired New London police captain, and announcing the hiring of a half-dozen new officers, most with experience with municipal departments.

"The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is in the final stages of increasing staffing of their police department," Bill Satti, the tribe's director of public affairs, said in a statement. "When fully staffed the force will have more than doubled to 25 uniformed fully trained and certified peace officers to off-set the reduction in state police presence at the casino.

"The tribal police force will continue to work concurrently with the state police when it comes to arresting powers regarding matters on the reservation."

Neither tribe provided specifics on the number of tribal officers deployed at the casinos at any one time.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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