Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposal calls for training 255 new state troopers over the next two years to make up for a wave of expected retirements at a department that has seen its ranks decline almost 20 percent over the last five years.
The draft calls for state police to end the budget cycle in June 2023 with 1,093 state troopers.
Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella told the Appropriations Committee last week that the State Police now have 913 troopers, with 50-60 typically on leave and a total of 216 becoming eligible to retire by July 2022.
Rovella said he expects about half of those eligible to retire – 108 troopers – to leave during the two year budget cycle. To make up for the retirements and reach Lamont’s goal, state police would need to hire 288 troopers over the next two years. The department brought on 178 troopers from the training program over the past three years.
State Police are planning to bring in 255 new troopers by running three trooper academy classes back-to-back over two years, instead of the typical one – or zero – classes a year. Rovella said three classes was the most they could realistically do in two years.
Lamont’s budget proposal includes an additional $6.31 million for trooper training over two years to fund that effort.
The first of those classes has already been in the academy for about five weeks, with 121 recruits learning virtually. The class started with 138 recruits, and it’s not unusual for some to leave, Rovella said. He said he expects about 85 troopers will join the State Police from this class – exactly on pace to reach 255 in three classes.
Heavy reliance on overtime
In the past decade, state trooper ranks were largest in 2015, when there were 1,134 troopers. The number of troopers declined each year after that until it reached a low of 864 troopers in 2019, before rising again to the current staff of 913 troopers.
With ranks low, State Police have relied on troopers working overtime. A state audit completed last year found 3,114 instances in which these officers worked between 15 and 29.5 hours in one day.
That audit also found that overtime costs in the department continued to surge, amounting to $26.25 million in 2019 when State Police ranks were at their lowest. Troopers were paid $19.73 million for the overtime they worked in 2018.
Overtime costs in the department increased again in 2020, about 3 percent to $26.98 million, according to a state report.
Rovella attributed that to short staffing, and said it would take a force of 1,000 troopers to be “financially efficient” in balancing overtime costs. He recommended 1,100 troopers, looking to backfill vacancies in special units, which would also result in lower overtime costs than the department currently pays, he said.
“They’re overworked, it’s just the nature of where we are today,” Rovella said. “It’s supply and demand, that’s the simple equation here.”
Rovella said staffing of specialty units like major crimes and SWAT is also down 20-25 percent over the past year. WIth staffing low, the main responsibility of State Police is to answer calls for service. As more troopers are added, the plan is to fill in those specialty units.
“It’s a result of the times we should have been hiring classes years and years ago,” Rovella said.
The police accountability law enables the state police to make “patch to patch” transfers, pulling officers from municipal departments to the state police, Rovella said. That’s not a popular idea among police chiefs who don’t want to lose their officers at local departments that are also struggling with maintaining staff, he said.
The largest class in four years
The current class of recruits is the largest the State Police has trained over the last four years.
State Police spokeswoman Kelly Grant said the department has opened applications each year for the past few years, a change from the previous years, and that consistently recruiting has put the State Police on the radar of more people.
“In 2019, from January to December, we were at a different event every month, and that was all over the state,” Grant said. “We were at the Durham Fair for the four days, we were at the Garlic Festival, we were at a Baptist church for their back to school event in Hartford. You name it, we were there.”
Despite the increased enrollment this year, Grant said negative perception of the police has made it more difficult to recruit new troopers.
“At the same time, we found there are people who are more interested because they realize there is a need for good people to become state troopers,” she said. “With us being out and about all the time, potential applicants were able to see themselves in us.”
Grant said the department’s outreach allowed more people to “see themselves” as state troopers.
“You do change minds and perceptions by just talking to people,” she said.