Bill would undo consolidation of dispatch centers

Several local legislators who say they are concerned about the potential for an adverse impact on public safety have asked that the state undo the consolidation of state police emergency dispatch centers in eastern Connecticut.

The proposed bill, introduced by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and state Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, calls for the commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to reinstate the dispatch centers to the four troops covering 50 municipalities.

State police last year shifted dispatchers from barracks in Montville, Colchester and Danielson into a revamped communications center at Troop C in Tolland. The move was initially touted as a way to save money and streamline communications while freeing up troopers who were previously required to man the desk alongside dispatchers.

"I'm not opposed to regionalization, but in this case, I'm concerned we moved a little bit too quickly and I want it reassessed," Osten said. "Regionalization is supposed to lead to cost savings and efficiencies while accomplishing the same services. I'm concerned that is not what's happening."

Osten, whose district straddles all four troop locations, said that in some cases, troops are not being manned correctly, response times have increased and costs have risen.

"I think we just have to look and ensure whatever we're doing is improving public safety, and I'm not convinced right now it does," she said. "This is a discussion we need to have."

Osten shares concerns expressed by other lawmakers in recent weeks.

State Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, a ranking member of the General Assembly's Public Safety Committee, released a statement last month saying he was "sickened over the news" that it reportedly took state police 90 minutes to respond to a Windham home invasion in which two teens locked themselves in a bathroom for safety.

"Was this fallout from the department's consolidation of the dispatch centers of four troops in eastern Connecticut?" he asked in his statement. "The citizens of Connecticut should not be put in jeopardy because of these consolidations."

State police are conducting an internal investigation into the matter.

State police union President Andy Matthews said the union has been opposed to the consolidation "since day one" and is making recommendations to lawmakers about "things we can do immediately until the new commissioner has an opportunity to investigate."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has named Dora Schriro, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, as the next public safety commissioner to succeed Reuben Bradford. Bradford retired as of Feb.1.

"We've exposed the flaws with the current system and how it is impacting response times," Matthews said. "There is lack of proper staffing in the field, a lack of proper information being delivered and it's leading to a delay in services."

Aside from the Windham example, Matthews said there was an incident when it took a trooper from Troop D in Danielson 41 minutes to respond to an active domestic incident because he was dispatched to Highland Road instead of Highland Drive.

"You have to have experienced people handling calls for service where a life may be at risk … people who know the geographical area," he said.

Response times have suffered, he said, because there are now call-takers relaying information to dispatchers instead of immediately sending out services. He said troopers are also now leaving their troop areas to transport prisoners to prisons in Montville and Niantic because there is no one at the troops to watch over them.

Matthews said many concerns have fallen on deaf ears as Col. Daniel R. Stebbins, the state police commander, continues to make his case for consolidation to the governor.

"Some very smart people in the legislature are paying close attention and finally hearing our concerns," Matthews said. "We're very optimistic the governor's office will make this a priority."

g.smith@theday.com

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