Angered by changes in dispatching, troop consolidation, the minimum staffing level for troopers, low morale, and the “disrespectful attitude” of top supervisors, the state police union voted overwhelmingly Tuesday in a no-confidence vote in the department’s top brass.
The union admits that the vote was a highly unusual move that was taken because the union leaders say the brass has been ignoring them.
“The union was established in 1981, and we never in the history of the union have had a vote of no confidence,’’ said Sgt. Andrew Matthews, an attorney who serves as the union president. “Since 1903 [when the state police was created], there has never been an official vote of no confidence that we’re aware of.’’
Troopers have recently blasted the consolidation of dispatching operations from two barracks into a regional center in Litchfield, as well as the consolidation of Troop H in Hartford with Troop W at Bradley International Airport. The union is currently locked in a bitter lawsuit over the 13-year-old state law that provided for a minimum of 1,248 state troopers. That law was repealed two weeks ago during a special session by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
The vote was near unanimous as 760 sworn troopers and sergeants registered no-confidence in Colonel Daniel Stebbins out of 794 ballots that were counted. In addition, 752 voted for no confidence in commissioner Reuben Bradford, a former trooper and the former security chief for the National Football League.
The union has been clashing sharply with Bradford and Stebbins, two longtime police veterans who are strongly supported by Malloy and his chief strategist, Roy Occhiogrosso. Both Bradford and Stebbins had left the state police years ago and came back specifically to work in the two top posts for Malloy.
Based on the comments on all sides, there did not appear to be any detente or rapprochement on the immediate horizon.
When Bradford was asked what he will do now to mend fences with the union, he responded, “My job and Dan’s job is to run the agency day to day. It’s not to mend fences. I didn’t tear down any fences. Again, we’ll continue to do our jobs.”
Malloy defended the top brass during a press conference Tuesday before the no-confidence vote was announced. He endorsed the changes being enacted by the commanders, including the switch to civilian dispatchers in order to place more troopers on the road.
“Change is hard,” Malloy told reporters. “We’re in the business of making change.”
When asked by a veteran television reporter if the no-confidence vote is essentially sour grapes by troopers about the recent changes, Malloy said, “I wouldn’t attribute it to just that.”
When asked if he had any concerns about public safety that have been expressed by the union, Malloy said, “Lowering costs and having more troopers doing their assignment is the goal.”
But Matthews said the union is asking Malloy to replace the two top commanders because they do not “possess the characteristics or leadership skills necessary to successfully lead our agency into the future.”
“Unfortunately, the commissioner and colonel have ignored the union membership, refused to communicate with the union leadership, and have failed to consider the invaluable experience and knowledge of our membership which would have ensured that the quality of public safety is not diminished during these difficult financial times,” said Matthews. “Their lack of leadership and disrespectful attitude towards our membership has been demonstrated by the implementation of arbitrary policies which endanger public safety and trooper safety, and as a result, has caused irreparable damage to the morale of our membership.”
Bradford and Stebbins gave a detailed presentation Tuesday at the state Capitol about the changes in their department as part of the regular presentations during Malloy’s monthly commissioners meeting.
Stebbins, in civilian clothes, described the consolidation of the dispatching operations at Troop A in Southbury and Troop B in North Canaan into a regional dispatching operation at Troop L in Litchfield as “a no-brainer” for the police. The initial change in the state’s northwestern corner was “the easiest one to do” and will precede other dispatching changes across the state, he said.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation” about the changes, Stebbins told fellow commissioners in a high-ceilinged, third-floor function room. “I was a little surprised that the blowback was greater than anticipated.”
But Matthews was flabbergasted by the remark that the consolidation was a “no-brainer” for the state police.
“If it’s such a no-brainer, then why didn’t we do it since 1903?” Matthews asked.
Clashes between the union and supervisors have been common in the state police through the years, but Matthews says now that morale is at an all-time low.
“There’s always been issues between management and labor, but in the past, at least there’s been a dialogue,” Matthews told Capitol Watch, adding there is “no discussion’’ currently. “It’s unprecedented, and we really believe that people are being told only one side of the story on the dispatch situation.’’
He charged that Stebbins “ignores us and dismisses us.’’
Over the next several years, the state police intend to enact a statewide dispatching consolidation that will eventually save the equivalent of 55 fulltime state troopers – allowing that number to leave the dispatching centers and head back out on the road.
Switching to civilian dispatchers, Bradford said, is part of a trend among local police departments in Connecticut and throughout New England.
“It works. It’s effective,” Bradford said.
During his speech to commissioners, Bradford addressed the recent controversy among troopers, sergeants, and Master Sergeants.
“Change is a verb,” Bradford said as he displayed the word on a video screen. “It has made Colonel Stebbins and I very popular people.”
The crowd of Malloy appointees laughed at Bradford’s remark.
Stebbins, who has come under sharp criticism from the union, said that Bradford and he are interested in making improvements to the department.
“Neither one of us are maintenance-kind of guys to just keep it running,” Stebbins told fellow department heads and commissioners.
Stebbins also said that the police brass will not be backing off from its stance.
“We’ve gone through quite a few changes in the last year, and there are more to come,” he said at the start of his remarks.
After the presentation by Bradford and Stebbins, Malloy looked at them and said, “Great job. Thank you both. This is what change actually looks like.”
Regarding the dispatching consolidations that would put more troopers on the road in coming years, Malloy said, “This is good stuff.”
State Rep. Stephen Dargan, the co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee under the past four House Speakers, said, “Governor Malloy is trying to streamline government. I think they’re trying to run the department in a more efficient, effective manner. … I think it all comes down to communication. A lot of time, people aren’t happy when you do any type of change.”
During his 22 years in the legislature, Dargan said Tuesday that he cannot recall any other no-confidence votes by the state police union. No confidence votes have occurred at the local level through those years, but not at the state police, he said.
“I remember sitting in with Judge Spada, the former commissioner, [and the union], and there have been other times when they were not happy with what transpired,” Dargan said of various past disputes, noting that lieutenants and captains fought for years for the right to organize within the state police.
The clash with the brass became more intense starting in March when two of the most prominent state police troops in the Greater Hartford area – Troop H in Hartford and Troop W at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks – were merged in a move that top legislators on the public safety committee were not aware of it.
The combined operation is now known as Troop H, and the airport branch is Troop H at Bradley.
In a cost-savings move, there is now one commander and one executive officer at the combined troop, rather than the current two. There is also one clerical staff.
Lt. Paul Vance, the department’s chief spokesman, predicted in March that the general public would not see any difference in patrols along the highways or at the airport. Instead, there was consolidations in the back-office area behind the scenes.
Matthews, the union president, said the union heard rumors about a possible merger late last year, but did not learn about any concrete plans until a meeting in January.
“We’re not objecting to finding other ways to save money,” Matthews told Capitol Watch at the time. “We would like to be part of the decision-making, but we never have been. We were never allowed to make suggestions.”
Matthews presented the state police brass with a one-page memorandum of understanding regarding staffing issues at Bradley airport, but no agreement was reached and the memorandum was never signed by Stebbins.
In 2011, the state police spent $9.9 million to operate Troop W at Bradley, and the police department was reimbursed $4.8 million by the state Department of Transportation, which oversees the airport, according to both Stebbins and Matthews. In 2010, the state police spent $9.3 million and were reimbursed $4.7 million, he said.
Stebbins, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, mentioned the merger in written testimony in front of the legislature’s public safety committee. The merger was mentioned briefly in the second-to-last paragraph of a two-page letter regarding Malloy’s plan to eliminate the state law that requires a minimum of 1,248 troopers.
The union has been battling in court to keep the 1,248 minimum, and Judge James T. Graham of state Superior Court in Hartford has ruled in the union’s favor. That decision is now being appealed by the Malloy administration.
Under then-Republican M. Jodi Rell, the state police were complying with the state law and had more than 1,248 troopers in 2009, according to the union.
But the Malloy administration has said that the state police have never been above the 1,248 minimum at any time since the 2005 fiscal year. Trooper staffing levels were outlined on a list that showed the pay periods from July 2004 through February 2012, and the administration says the 1,248 target was never hit during that timeframe.
“They’re not being factual,” Matthews responded at the time. “In February 2009, and we have the stat sheet from human resources of the Department of Public Safety, we were at 1,283 sworn troopers. They’re playing games with stats in an attempt to discredit our union. We don’t lie. … To say we’ve never exceeed 1,248 is absolutely false.”
But Occhiogrosso maintained at the time that the state was never above 1,248 on a long-term, sustained basis.
“I know that 1,283, 1,248 – these are arbitrary numbers,” he said at the time. “During that time, crime has continued to go down. The crime rate today in Connecticut is at its lowest point in 44 years. I’m not sure what their point is – it seems that that arbitrary number attaches itself to a higher level of public safety. The 1,248 is an arbitrary figure which has mostly not been met.’’
Vance said that the regular patrols at Bradley would continue.
“The way we beefed up Bradley, if you will, is we took troopers and brought them to Bradley,” Vance said of the move in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Troop H currently patrols all the way to the Massachusetts border, and that will continue, Vance said.
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