Published March 26. 2014 4:00AM
People don't expect to find police stations empty when they need help. While a state police barracks is not technically a police station, such nuance is immaterial when a citizen is in need of assistance. It makes sense, then, that the new public safety commissioner has reversed a decision by her predecessor that left some barracks closed during overnight hours and weekends.
Beginning in our region a few months ago, former Public Safety Commissioner Reuben Bradford instituted the practice of leaving some barracks without staff. He tied it to a plan - which does make sense - to consolidate dispatch centers in a few barracks across the state, rather than duplicating dispatching in every facility. The former commissioner saw no need to continue keeping barracks without dispatch centers staffed around-the-clock. A citizen visiting one of these closed stations has found an emergency call box they could use to connect with dispatch and request help.
That bad policy could have tragic consequences.
Commissioner Dora A. Schriro, who took over the position in January, had it right when she said Monday, "Our state police barracks need to be open and accessible to the public 24-7."
In pushing for consolidation of dispatch services and in defending the policy of having barracks closed at times, Mr. Bradford sought to keep more state police on patrol. While a laudable goal, it does not justify hanging closed signs on police facilities. In ordering her commanders to implement the new policy, Ms. Schriro wants to minimize any reductions in patrols. She is instructing commanders to coordinate schedules so that some troopers - who must come into the barracks to perform record-keeping duties - are always available to the public.
Also facing criticism from both lawmakers and the State Police Union, and under review by the commissioner, is the consolidation of dispatch services. In eastern Connecticut, dispatch services now originate from Troop C in Tolland. Dispatch operations at Troop E in Montville, Troop K in Colchester and Troop D in Danielson are closed. Since the consolidation, there have been complaints about slower response times and examples of troopers sent to the wrong location. Two bills pending in the legislature call for returning dispatchers to every barracks.
In a time when a technician can control an unmanned aircraft on the other side of the planet, when individuals can be tracked by the phones they carry, and a soldier in Afghanistan can see his baby back home, there is no reason state police cannot be swiftly and accurately dispatched from one call center covering eastern Connecticut.
In many other parts of the country, states have dispatch centers handling much larger areas. The commissioner's goal should be to get it right, not retreat by returning to a redundant wasteful system.