Published June 26. 2012 3:00PM Updated June 27. 2012 2:30PM
Governor dismisses state police union action as nothing but labor tactic, indicative of resistance to change
Hartford — Frustrated over a dispatch consolidation project and leadership's "disrespectful attitude," the Connecticut State Police Union has taken a vote of no confidence in the department's commissioner and top deputy.
The union, comprised of 1,016 troopers, sergeants and master sergeants, announced Tuesday that its members voted 752-42 to express no confidence in Reuben Bradford, the commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and a Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appointee.
The vote was 760-34 against Deputy Commissioner Col. Danny Stebbins, chief architect of a plan to reduce the number of state police dispatch centers from 12 to five while replacing some trooper dispatchers with lower-salaried civilians.
The twin votes, although purely symbolic and without legal standing, were described by the union as unprecedented in the department's history. The union distributed the mail-in ballots to members early in the month.
"We're asking the governor to hear the message from the membership and find suitable replacements," union President Andrew Matthews said.
In announcing the tally, the union said its board of directors organized the vote because Bradford and Stebbins "are running the agency in a manner that is detrimental to public safety and trooper safety."
But Malloy said he has full confidence in the two men, and dismissed the union's action as a labor tactic that merely indicates a reluctance to embrace change.
"Change is hard," the governor told reporters. "I have the highest regard for the commissioner and the colonel. I think they're doing an absolutely outstanding job."
The troopers are especially angry about the consolidation project, which Matthews says was planned and enacted without consulting the state police union.
He said Malloy pledged in 2010 to involve union members in any talks concerning major changes to the department when he sought the union's endorsement for governor.
"The governor did make us a promise that we would have a seat at the table, and we haven't had that," Matthews said.
The Malloy administration has had difficulty working with the state police union. Last year, the union turned down the wage portion of a do-over concessions deal with the state workforce, keeping raises but losing job protection.
The union also sued the administration for failing to meet the state's statutory minimum of 1,248 sworn troopers. At the time, there were 1,080 troopers.
The General Assembly voted at its special session this month to enact a Malloy plan to do away with the 1,248 minimum and allow Commissioner Bradford to determine the "sufficient" number of troopers. Malloy said the staffing minimum, set by a 1998 law, was arbitrary and not necessary for public safety.
The mandate law was spurred when Heather Messenger of Chaplin was killed during an 18 minute wait after calling 911.
The consolidation project started this spring when northwestern Connecticut dispatch centers inside barracks in Litchfield, Southbury and Canaan were moved into one center in Litchfield. The number of on-duty dispatchers was reduced from six (three civilians and three troopers) to four (three civilians and one trooper).
Bradford said the consolidations will continue in the eastern and southern parts of the state "in a couple years." Once complete, the project will allow the "full-time equivalent" of 55 troopers to be reassigned to patrol duties, which, the commissioner said, would result in improved safety and an $8 million annual savings.
Bradford said Connecticut and Rhode Island are the only New England states still using state troopers to dispatch state troopers.
But Matthews, the union president, said the commissioner and deputy haven't disclosed the full details of their plan to the public or the governor. He said the project likely will result in some barracks operating like "sub stations" that close on nights and weekends. He pointed out that the department is currently installing 24-hour emergency call boxes outside some barracks.
"There will be a day when you walk up to a troop and the lights will be off and the door will be locked," Matthews said.
The union also claims that dispatchers in the newly-consolidated dispatch center are too overwhelmed to immediately answer all 911 calls and trooper radio calls. In addition, there have yet to be troopers reassigned to additional patrols, the union says.
"We aren't opposed to change," Matthews said. "We are opposed to change that is dangerous to our members and the public."
Bradford repeatedly has denied that trooper barracks are slated to close. State Police Spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said the new call boxes are for the rare occasions when barracks personnel are all outside responding to emergencies.
"These boxes were put there just in case," Vance said.
Speaking with reporters, Malloy compared the union's complaints to a situation in Stamford years ago when local police and firefighters complained about the city bringing in civilian dispatchers for a 911 center.
"It was a gigantic controversy because people see that you're making change." said Malloy, the city's former mayor.
Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, denied the union president's claim that his members have been left out of big issues.
"At the governor's request I told Andy Matthews he could come talk to us anytime, about anything. And he did — often, and on a bunch of issues," wrote Occhiogrosso in an e-mail. "But when someone proves to be untrustworthy, when he misrepresents discussions he's had, and when he misinforms his members, the trust factor is gone."