State police stop filling cruisers at town pumps
State police have suspended the long-standing but unregulated custom of allowing resident troopers in eastern Connecticut to fill their cruisers with town fuel while their Professional Standards Unit considers official language to address the practice.
Lt. J. Paul Vance, state police spokesman, said it's not unusual for town officials to allow their resident troopers to fill up at the town garage to keep them from driving to and from their assigned barracks for gas - a round trip that can add up to more than 30 miles and time spent away from their patrol.
There is no policy that addresses this "arbitrary usage," Vance said, which officials sometimes authorize during severe weather events or other emergencies. And though there was no instance of wrongdoing that spurred the examination, Vance said it's a matter of being "fair to the communities that we serve."
But no decisions have been made yet, even as to whether a policy will be enacted at all.
"We have to look at the whole big picture and see if there's a policy even necessary," he said.
The suspension comes as the Connecticut Council of Small Towns is asking the state to lower towns' contribution to their resident trooper programs in its legislative platform, adopted by the 139-town association in February.
Until 2011, towns with resident troopers covered 70 percent of all costs associated with the program. That changed when the state enacted a law mandating that towns fully fund resident troopers' overtime and fringe benefits.
At its annual meeting in February, COST said towns' share should be capped at the 70 percent rate - a stance encompassed in a bill introduced to the state public safety committee by Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a member of the committee and Sprague's first selectman.
COST also proposed that the state notify the 56 towns with resident trooper programs early in the budget cycle of any benefit rate increases for troopers. Altogether, the program includes 110 troopers.
But as far as town fuel use goes, some area officials say this particular expense is worth it.
In North Stonington, First Selectman Nicholas Mullane said he has always told resident troopers that he prefers that they use town fuel rather than risk getting tied up at the barracks or with any incidents that may occur along the way.
"I have been proactive in that manner to keep the troopers in town," he said.
Despite criticism, Mullane maintains that no one has abused this leniency. He said he is looking into upgrading the system that keeps track of when both troopers and town employees fill up at the garage.
Others are stricter. Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said Preston's two resident troopers have never filled up at the Public Works garage, with the possible exception of emergencies during storms.
And in Salem, First Selectman Kevin Lyden says he authorizes the town's two resident troopers to use town fuel "very infrequently," particularly when the town opens its emergency operations center during a storm.
It adds up to a small expense, he said, saves troopers the drive to state police barracks in Montville or Colchester and keeps them where they're needed.
Lyden said he does not want the practice to be regulated in a way that hurts municipalities in the service of addressing an insignificant cost.
"Sometimes people put policies in place to save a nickel," he said. "It costs dollar to save a nickel, and you don't want that."
Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich contributed to this article.
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