With nine of the top 10 state police commanders indicating they will soon retire, the loss of experienced leadership and the domino effect of promoting less-seasoned troopers to take their place is drawing concern from the troopers’ union.
The state police commissioner, however, says the situation will not result in any positions being filled by anyone with inadequate experience and qualifications.
The nine majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels are among thousands of state employees who are retiring or are expected to before changes to pension and medical benefits take effect July 1 that are widely viewed as financially unattractive.
Chronic understaffing worsened by previous and current retirements has already accelerated the promotion process in the agency, positioning many newer sergeants and lieutenants to now move into the upper echelons of management with the upcoming vacancies.
“You’re going to have somebody that was just made sergeant eight months ago and now they’re going to be a captain or a major or a lieutenant colonel,” said Andy Matthews, the 900-member union’s executive director. “When you promote people that quickly, they don’t have time to learn the job and have the experience necessary to make command decisions during the most critical times. We have concerns about that because it could affect the safety of the public and the men and women in the field doing the job.”
Department of Public Safety and Security Commissioner James Rovella raised the issue late last week with a legislative committee that oversees the state police.
Rovella said he has proposed a system of a one-time “pay compression” raise of 3- to 5-percent effective July 1 that would be used as an incentive to attract and retain command staff, who because of overtime and other factors may now make less than some of the troopers they supervise.
But, he expressed little confidence it would prevent any of the nine commanders he mentioned from retiring.
“Realistically, even with an adjusted pay compression, they have plans and they’re going to be moving on,” Rovella told members of the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee.
Rovella said he also had explored creating a “deferred retirement option plan,” that would enable a trooper to officially retire but to stay on staff to train other troopers and defer collecting any pension payments while doing so.
He said the proposed plan was floated with the trooper’s union but ultimately “it really didn’t go anywhere.”
The agency has been aggressively hiring new troopers and running essentially back-to-back 6-month training classes at the police academy in Meriden to try to counter the departures, said Brian Foley, Rovella’s top assistant.
“This is a problem that has been developing over the past 10 years, and we have been working to fix it,” he said.
Foley added that since Rovella took over the agency in 2020 after being appointed by Gov. Ned Lamont, about 100 troopers have been promoted to Sargent and another 17 to Lieutenant.
Of Matthew’s allegation that the wave of command-staff retirements and the accelerated promotions to fill those jobs may place relatively-inexperienced troopers in crucial management positions, Foley said the agency will “adhere to the standard promotional testing processes.”
Matthews says the union appreciates the administration’s efforts to boost managers’ pay and increase staff, which he estimates is down by about 300 troopers from ideal levels, but that the problem is beyond any kind of quick solution.
“I do give credit to the Commissioner for trying to adjust and fix it, but it should have happened a long time ago,” he said. “In the meantime, you’re going to have a bunch of people in leadership roles making very important decisions that might not have the experience.”
Matthews said the spike in retirements is also being driven by the perception by many troopers that public sentiment and actions by politicians have grown increasingly anti-law enforcement.
While it was traditionally uncommon to see a trooper retire as soon as they reached the 20-year “hazardous duty” threshold to collect a full pension, which was increased to 25 years in 2017, Matthews said retiring as soon as possible has become the norm.
“Our people are just discouraged and feel real disappointment in the leadership,” he said. “There’s no interest or desire to stay.”