A new class of more than 60 state police recruits will be graduated from the training academy a month early – a move that the police union charges will endanger the safety of troopers and the public and is motivated by politics and public relations.
“We’re talking about the life or death of a state trooper,” retired trooper and union Executive Director Andy Matthews said Thursday. “When you eliminate four weeks off a six-month academy class, you’re eliminating experiential training. It’s stuff that can save your life. What you’re really doing is pushing these kids out of the academy prematurely. That’s just not right.”
The state’s website describes the academy training as a “physically and mentally demanding” program that “lasts six months and includes classroom instruction, practical exercises and physical conditioning.”
Matthews said he believes the move to shorten it by a month is designed to help Gov. Ned Lamont and members of the General Assembly who are up for reelection in November, and have been the subject of police criticism due to “all-time” low morale driven by understaffing and the passage of a 2020 police-accountability bill that they view as overly restrictive.
The force now totals about 970 troopers – about 300 less than a decade ago – despite the last two state budgets including funding for training dozens of recruits.
Graduating the current class of 64 troopers in late March, Matthews said, will allow a new class to begin in April.
“And guess when that class graduates? Just before the election,” Matthews said. “It doesn’t take a genius to tie that together.”
The action also follows a meeting two weeks ago between State Police Commissioner James Rovella and leading members of the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee where staffing and other issues such as a decline in traffic enforcement were discussed – and drew extensive media attention.
“This stuff doesn’t happen unless the commissioner approves it,” Matthews said of the abbreviated training program.
Brian Foley, spokesman for Rovella, said the commissioner was not available for comment on Thursday.
Lamont’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
State Rep. Greg Howard, a veteran Stonington police officer and ranking Republican member of the public safety committee who was at the meeting, said he had not heard of the accelerated graduation until contacted by CT Examiner and so could not comment in detail.
“I think training is extremely important and always will be important,” he said. “If we’re limiting the amount of training then that’s a problem.”
Committee co-chair State Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, said she was not aware of any reduction of the police academy’s program.
“My understanding is that the length of the current training program is pretty much in line with past experience,” she said. “Again, we did not ask that it be accelerated in any way.”
Two other members of the public safety committee who were at the meeting – co-chair State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague and State Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, who is a retired police officer – did not respond to requests for comment.
Matthews said the current class training has already been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic, which at times forced recruits to receive instruction remotely rather than at the academy in Meriden, where they typically live during the bulk of the program.
Matthews said that some of the program’s requirements, such as a written test, also have been eliminated or loosened in an effort to increase the pool of candidates that has been steadily declining in quality.
The end result of the watered-down and shortened program, Matthews said, is that the class graduating in March will be more at risk of endangering the public, themselves, and the “field-training officers” that accompany them for their first month on the job to, as the state police website describes, “detect any poor working habits that could prove dangerous to the Trooper Trainee or other troopers.”
“You need more time with these people – not less,” Matthews said of the graduating class. “It’s all politics and while they’re playing their political nonsense they’re putting people at risk.”