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Tolland - State police emergency dispatchers now monitor a 50-town area of eastern Connecticut, including two tribal nations, from one room.
Consolidation of dispatchers from four different troops was completed this week when the last group left the Troop E barracks in Montville and moved into a revamped, more modern work space at Troop C in Tolland.
State police officials showed off the new accommodations Thursday during an open house for the media, part of an effort to allay concerns about closed doors at the barracks and availability of troopers to the public, something the state police union says could compromise public safety.
State Police Col. Danny R. Stebbins on Thursday answered questions as he stood before a bank of monitors that track trooper movements, stream video from outside the various barracks and list ongoing incidents. Meanwhile, dispatchers at their work stations quietly fielded 911 calls and sent troopers out to incident scenes.
Stebbins said that while cost savings may come in the future, the real advantage of the consolidation is efficiency in not only answering calls but freeing up 20 troopers who used to be tied to a desk.
"We should have done this 10 years ago, but we didn't have the technology," he said.
Civilian dispatchers, 22 at the consolidated center, used to work side-by-side with a trooper in each barracks, so the move to an all-civilian group answering 911 calls allows those troopers to get back on the road "and earn their hazardous duty pay," Stebbins said. Troopers cost nearly twice as much as civilians, he said. The dispatch center, with at least one dispatcher assigned for each troop, is overseen by a state police sergeant.
It also allows for a better distribution of the workload, Stebbins said. In 2011, troops C, D, and K answered 10,012, 5,967 and 8,065 calls respectively, according to a state police report. During that same period, Troop E handled 47,335 calls.
The move is part of a statewide effort to consolidate dispatch services into five locations - with three main communication centers that split the state into thirds. Dispatch centers in Bridgeport and at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks remain unchanged.
The move has not come without controversy, and Stebbins acknowledged it is "a work in progress" that has included complaints from the public at Troop D in Danielson, where the lobby was locked and visitors frequently were made to wait outside for assistance. That will soon change, Stebbins said, when the troop again opens the lobby.
The barracks in Montville and Colchester also will be open to the public during normal business hours, but off-hours visitors will find themselves connected with a dispatcher in Tolland via "Trooper Smurf," the blue emergency phones equipped with a camera that are now positioned outside all the barracks.
There also are times when all troopers are out and the phone is the only way to communicate. That fact has raised concerns from the police union, whose representatives say the move dropped an important public service by locking the barracks and eliminating the "safe haven" aspect of the buildings.
State police union President Andy Matthews said the move also is less efficient for troopers, who end up staying at the barracks when they have to tend to prisoners. One prisoner must be processed by a minimum of two troopers, and since there no longer is a desk trooper on duty, a trooper must be pulled off the road to assist the arresting officer, he said.
He also said there has been a delay, in some cases, in information getting disseminated to the troopers because calls are taken by one person - an assigned call-taker - and sent to another whose job is to talk to the troopers.
Stebbins said the prisoner issue is being dealt with in part via an agreement with the state Department of Correction, which will house the prisoners at a state prison when they have not posted bail, something they already do frequently on weekends.
Lead dispatcher JoAnne Samataro said one development not to be overlooked is the better working conditions. While some resisted the change at first, she said, "their eyes opened" once they started working in the new center.