Southbury, Canaan Dispatch Centers To Close

Southbury, Canaan dispatch centers to close
State police to consolidate operations in Litchfield

BY KURT MOFFETT REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

The consolidation of the state police dispatching centers at Troop B in Canaan and Troop A in Southbury into facilities at Troop L in Litchfield will not happen by Jan. 1 as originally planned.

State Police Col. Danny R. Stebbins said Monday that work has begun at Troop L to triple the number of consoles from two to six, but there is no date as to when Troop B's dispatching services will be moved to Litchfield. Troop B will be the first to move because it is the smallest troop and has the lowest call volume.

"We would like to see it as quickly as possible, but it's not a question of time, it's doing it right," he said.

Once Troop B's dispatching services are operating smoothly at the new location, then Troop A's will be moved, Stebbins said. The two barracks will not close. He could not say for certain that the state will not lay off staff, but said he would prefer that no one loses a job.

The dispatching change is part of an overall cost-saving plan the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection submitted to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration. The original proposal released over the summer estimated $2 million in savings by eliminating trooper and dispatcher jobs, as well as the consolidation of dispatching.

The unions representing dispatchers and state troopers have concerns about the consolidation, and called a news conference Monday at the Elton Hotel in Waterbury to address them.

Larry Dorman, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4, said the news conference was called for two main reasons -- the scheduling of a legislative hearing on Jan. 18 regarding the centralization of dispatching and the two storms that hit Connecticut in recent months -- Hurricane Irene in August and the Oct. 29 snowstorm.

"The last thing we need happening is barracks being shuttered, workers being sent all over the state in response to calls, it just doesn't make sense," he said.

Jeff Scanlon, a staff representative for Council 4, said while there are contractual obligations that will need to be resolved, dispatchers also have concerns about providing adequate public safety. Reassigning dispatchers to areas they are not familiar with might delay the time an officer arrives at an emergency.

Stebbins said dispatchers will be required to expand their knowledge of other areas they will be responsible for and will have access to data, maps, equipment and other references to help them.

Andrew Matthews, president of the state police union, said his members are concerned about the distances troopers will have to travel to either transport prisoners or respond to calls and citizens seeking help. He said it is 25 miles from Troop B to Troop L and 35 miles from the Hartland-Granby line -- the eastern border of the Troop B territory.

Matthews said the travel time and the processing of prisoners could increase response times and cost the state more money in overtime payments.

"It sounds good when you talk about consolidation and saving the taxpayers money, merge troops, but what they don't talk about is the cost to implement it," he said. "They don't want to talk about the hidden costs if we were to regionalize."

Currently, a trooper works with a dispatcher during each eight-hour shift at Troops A, B and L. Stebbins said that will no longer be the case, as the troopers will be required to go on patrol. Having more troopers on patrol should reduce overtime costs, he said.

A trooper's salary, benefits and vehicle costs on average $150,000 a year, he said. Dispatchers cost about half that.

"The goal is to have dispatchers do the dispatching and troopers do the patrol work," he said, adding that state financial personnel estimate that there is $50,000 in overtime savings for every trooper that is added to patrol.

Stebbins said troopers will not be required to have someone at Troop B 24 hours per day. The plan is to install call boxes that citizens can use to call a dispatcher who can contact a trooper to come to the barracks.

State police have also entered into an agreement with the judicial marshals that will forbid those barracks from holding prisoners overnight or on weekends unless absolutely necessary.

"We're not set up to do that anyway," he said. "We don't have recreation, we don't have kitchens, we don't have food, we don't have visitation."

Judicial marshals will also be able to contact troopers at any time via radios and GPS.

"This is not just a state police change. This is a state agency change," Stebbins said. "We're going to be providing some communication services to them. We'll be able to see where they are and they can see where we are. So it's an officer safety issue. It's a much bigger program than just regionalization up there. It's a good thing. It should've been done a long time ago."

Stebbins said consolidating dispatchers will put less pressure on them to take 911 and administrative calls, watch prisoners and stay in contact with troopers and give administrators more flexibility in staffing. Dispatchers will be assigned based on need rather than contractual obligations.

The goal is to reduce the number of dispatch centers gradually from 12 to five. Stebbins said one centralized center is still a possibility in the distant future.