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 – are being merged Friday.
The combined operation will be known as Troop H, and the airport branch will be Troop H at Bradley.
In a cost-savings move, there will now be one commander and one executive officer at the combined troop, rather than the current two. There will also be one clerical staff. While the merger is designed to save money, the department’s spokesman, Lt. J. Paul Vance, said he did not have a precise figure on the savings.
The general public, Vance said, will not see a difference in patrols along the highways or at the airport. Instead, there will be consolidations in the back-office area behind the scenes.
Sgt. Andrew Matthews, the president of the state police union, said the general public is largely unaware of the merger because it has been kept quiet. The union heard rumors about a possible merger late last year, but did not learn about any concrete plans until a meeting in January, he said.
“We’re not objecting to finding other ways to save money,” Matthews told Capitol Watch on Thursday night. “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 Wednesday regarding staffing issues at Bradley airport, but no agreement was reached and the memorandum was never signed.
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, Matthews said. In 2010, the state police spent $9.3 million and were reimbursed $4.7 million, he said.
Colonel Danny R. Stebbins, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, mentioned the merger in written testimony last month 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 Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to eliminate the state law that requires a minimum of 1,248 troopers.
The state police union is currently battling in state Superior Court in Hartford to keep the 1,248 minimum, and Judge James T. Graham 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 said Thursday 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. “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 Malloy’s senior advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, maintained that the state was never above 1,248 on a long-term, sustained basis.
“I think there was a brief period of time when the number of troopers exceeded 1,248,’’ Occhiogrosso told Capitol Watch. “I know that 1,283, 1,248 – these are arbitrary numbers. Duing 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.’’
When told that the union disagrees with the figures of the administration, Occhiogrosso asked, “We have manipulated the payroll system every year for the past 10 years?’’
The plan has been so secret that the longtime co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee, Rep. Stephen Dargan, was not familiar with it Thursday night.
“I’m not aware of Hartford and the airport,” Dargan said of the merger. “We want to get as many people back out on the road as possible. I think most people in the state would agree with that. The governor is trying to redirect personnel that we have back out on the interstate.”
Dargan said he clearly remembers that the state has been above the mandatory minimum in the recent past.
“We were above that number of 1,248,” Dargan said. “It was during the Rell administration, and it deteriorated after that because of early retirements.”
State Sen. John Kissel, who represents Windsor Locks, Enfield, and other communities, said he has some concerns about the merger of the two troops.
“I am asking for assurances from state officials that this merger will keep Connecticut in compliance with the Aviation and Transportation Security Act,” Kissel said. “This federal law was enacted following the September 11 terrorist attacks and was designed to improve the security of transportation systems throughout the United States, with particular emphasis on airport security. We need to be absolutely certain that this merger will not hinder security operations at Bradley International Airport. We cannot allow public safety to be jeopardized.”
Kissel added, “Furthermore, it is my understanding that if Connecticut is not in compliance with this ATSA, the federal government could close Bradley International Airport. That would be a disaster for my district and for our state.”
Vance said that he has not spoken to Kissel personally, but he said that patrols at the regular patrols at Bradley will continue.
“The way we beefed up Bradley, if you will, is we took troopers and brought them to Bradley,” Vance said of the post 9-11 move.
Troop H currently patrols all the way to the Massachusetts border, and that will continue, Vance said.