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State police are in the final stages of a move to consolidate eastern Connecticut emergency dispatchers into a newly revamped facility at the Troop C police barracks in Tolland.
Before the end of the summer, dispatchers will be sitting side-by-side in Tolland, collectively fielding calls from an area encompassing 50 municipalities in New London, Windham and Tolland counties. Those towns are now served separately by Troop C, Troop E in Montville, Troop K in Colchester and Troop D in Danielson.
State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said he expects Troop C to start working out of the new facility by month's end. Two dispatch areas will be available while any problems in the new system are worked out.
Troop D in Danielson will move sometime in June, followed by Troop K and finally Troop E, the busiest of the group.
"We designed a consolidated dispatch area to accommodate consoles from each troop," Vance said.
The move is part of an overall plan that will eventually reduce 12 dispatch centers to five, with one dispatch center each for the eastern, western and central districts. There are no plans to change the busy dispatch centers in Bridgeport or Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. Troop F in Westbrook will eventually be combined with H and I as part of a consolidated central area dispatch.
State Police Deputy Commissioner Danny Stebbins announced last year the move was designed to streamline the system, get more troopers who earn hazardous duty pay on the road and save money.
Each of the barracks uses one civilian and at least one trooper to handle calls. Troop E sometimes has three dispatchers on duty during heavy call times.
The move was completed last year in the western district, where Troop A in Southbury and Troop B in Canaan were shifted to Troop L in Litchfield.
"It's working out west. Yes, we've had some bumps in the road," Vance said. "If we didn't tell everyone what we were doing, no one would know the difference. The barracks are still functioning."
Stebbins initially estimated costs for the consolidation at Troop C at $250,000 though updated numbers were not yet available.
Union representatives for the state police remain critical of the move, saying barracks across eastern Connecticut will be closed to the public during evening and overnight shifts, amounting to what union President Sgt. Andrew Matthews called "substations."
"When the public goes there, especially on evenings, they're going to find a locked building. That's never happened in the 110-year history of our department," Matthews said.
Instead of an open door, the public will be met with what some troopers have dubbed "Trooper Smurf," a blue call box that connects the visitor to dispatch.
Matthews foresees a strain on what he said are already understaffed barracks as they attempt to cope with loss of extra help at the troops, especially when it comes time to handling prisoners. As has already been the case out west, Matthews said troopers will be spending time transporting prisoners to local prisons or other troops because they cannot be held without at least two troopers in the building.
State police said they had intended to enlist judicial marshals for prisoner transports but it is unclear if an agreement has worked out.
"The union wouldn't have an issue if they would add additional staff," Matthews said. "We shouldn't be doing things to increase the risk to troopers."
He said the union has been arguing for years that the eastern portion of the state sees higher rates of sexual assault, drunken driving and domestics. Matthews said in 2009, state police had 1,283 sworn officers and a $157 million budget. The budget has since shrunk by $40 million and now has 1,070 sworn officers.
"To us it's dangerous not only to our members but dangerous to our troopers. It should offend the constituents that this was not vetted through legislation - with no legislative hearing or debate."
Longtime emergency dispatcher Tim Walker, who works at Troop E In Montville, said he is part of a committee trying to work out the logistics of the move. Some of the major things to be worked out is the ratio of dispatchers based on call volume.
Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the union representing dispatchers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4), said that while he shares some concerns about public safety, the union is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"You always have to have concern for the public's safety," Dorman said. "We won't know for a while the impact this has on overall public safety. Yes, we're concerned, but we want to be able to gauge what kind of impact it will have. Time will tell if this works out or not. We are maintaining ongoing discussing to ensure things are done properly with the public's well-being in mind. "
Dorman said the union represents about 75 dispatchers statewide. There will be 12 dispatchers shifted in the eastern district consolidation.