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Let's celebrate our investments in public safety

The State Bond Commission recently met for only the third time this year, and among the many disbursements of state money it made were several investments that you will probably never hear about, since they aren't the type of local projects like extending a nature trail or building a new firehouse that typically receive a lot of news coverage.

So I'll tell you about them.

Police departments from Brookfield to Windsor received $380,000 to buy body cameras and video storage devices for their local officers (state police have had body cameras paid for in previous bonding), and we've got another $3.6 million to hand out to local police departments in the coming months to pay them back for these investments in officer safety.

The Connecticut State Police received $4.1 million in state bonding for electrical generators and new fuel tanks at three Troop barracks and to pay for a brand-new roof and atrium repairs at the State Police headquarters in Middletown (the existing HQ roof is 30 years old).

We're putting $13 million into our courthouses — the places where people who are charged with crimes appear before a judge and are tried before a jury — and another $2.5 million into the Office of the Chief State's Medical Examiner, which among other duties conducts autopsies on crime victims for evidence to be used in courtroom trials. We're also putting $1.75 million into the State Armory in Hartford, which is the home of our Connecticut National Guard.

I mention all this because there has been some talk nationally about paying for public safety, and if taxpayer investments in public safety need to be reduced, or redirected, or increased. A recent poll by a national group called Safer Cities found that Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, men and women, people with a college degree or no college degree, all agreed within a few percentage points of each other that our focus should remain on fully funding police departments and public safety measures.

Thankfully, this debate has not been a topic of conversation in Connecticut, because Connecticut always spends money on public safety. As Senate Chair of the Public Safety Committee and as Senate Chair of the Appropriations Committee (which helps write the state budget), I can tell you that Connecticut's investment in public safety will increase by many tens of millions of dollars over the next few years. There is continued support for police and public safety here in Connecticut.

For example, the 2021-2023 biennial state budget written by Democrats (and passed with about 50% Republican support in each chamber) increases state spending for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP, essentially the state police) by 5.6% from this year to next year, adding another $9 million and growing from $159.6 million to $168.6 million. The state Division of Criminal Justice will see its budget grow by 3.7% next year. The Judicial Department will see its budget grow by 4.4%. The Corrections Department will receive another $7 million next year, bringing its annual budget to $632 million, even as our incarcerated population shrinks to historically low levels due to declining crime rates in Connecticut and across the country.

The 2021-2023 biennial state budget also gives Connecticut cities and towns an extra half billion dollars in state aid to spend on local education, local police, public works, parks and recreation — whatever they want. For example, my 19th state Senate District towns of Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville, Norwich and Sprague are receiving an extra $8.5 million in state aid over the next two years — increases of 3.75% and 5.2%. That's a lot.

Of course this comes on top of funding for four new state police troop training classes in the past two state budgets, and the 2019 Democratic approval of a new state police labor union contract (approved essentially along party lines), which awarded more than 900 Connecticut state troopers a 6.5 percent pay increase over three years and — for the first time ever — a paid 30-minute lunch break.

I mention all of these large and ongoing investments in Connecticut's public safety infrastructure – from its local and state police to its court houses and correctional facilities – as a reminder that as discussions occur somewhere else in America about how to fund public safety, we here in Connecticut are already doing a great job of doing just that. Maybe we're doing it too quietly, and not tooting our own horn enough, but we're doing it just the same.

Cathy Osten (D) represents the 19th State Senate District.

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