Faster police response will cost [Journal Inquirer]

March 26, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Journal Inquirer

Journal Inquirer— If lawmakers want faster police responses, they’ll have to pay for it.

That was the conclusion of a legislative panel’s study on just how many Connecticut State Police officers there should be.

The study found that while state police respond to at least half of their calls within 15 minutes — a self-imposed standard — the response times vary depending on geography and the nature of the emergency. Response times also have increased slightly in recent years as the number of state troopers has decreased, the study found.

Lawmakers must now decide if that’s adequate or if more troopers should be hired.

“It’s where you live and how much you’re willing to pay,” Sen. Stephen T. Cassano, D-Manchester, said. “It’s a question of investment.”

Cassano is a member of the legislature’s bipartisan Program Review and Investigations Committee, which authored the report.

The legislature requested the report after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, proposed eliminating the minimum level of 1,248 state troopers and granting his office sole authority for setting staffing standards.

The legislature agreed to eliminate the minimum, but they want control over setting a minimum police force.

Since its inception the state police have had difficulty reaching and maintaining the legislative mandate, which was prompted by the slow response to a call of help from a Chaplin woman bludgeoned to death in 1998.

There now are 1,082 sworn state troopers.

The report now goes to the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection for its response. It’ll also go to the legislature’s budget-setting Appropriations Committee.

According to the report state police responded to non-fatal car accidents on average within five minutes 42 percent of the time and within 15 minutes 86 percent of the time last year. They responded to accidents with fatal injuries within five minutes 43 percent of the time and within 15 minutes 90 percent of the time.

Response times slow, however, when state troopers leave the highways. On average they responded to domestic violence incidents within five minutes 33 percent of the time and within 15 minutes 75 percent of the time. Troopers responded to a call for assault within five minutes 22 percent of the time and within 15 minutes 50 percent of the time.

Troop D in Danielson posted the slowest times in 2012, with half of its calls responded to within 15 minutes. Troop D’s coverage area also has the second lowest population density and the fourth fewest highway miles.

Troop H in Hartford had the fastest average response times, with 77 percent of calls responded to within 15 minutes. But it has the third highest population density among the troops and the most miles of state highways.

Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, questioned whether 10 or 15 minutes is fast enough in a domestic violence incident, citing the murder of Heather Messenger by her husband in their Chaplin home — in Guglielmo’s district.

Messenger was bludgeoned to death with a fireplace poker in front of her 5-year-old son. The killing was recorded on the 911 audiotape. State police took 18 minutes to respond.

Guglielmo argued for investment in more state police.

“It’s a question of what we want as a legislature, what citizens want from the state police,” he said. “If you have less troopers you’re going to have longer response times. If you have longer response times you’re going to have more serious and dangerous results.”

Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, co-chairman of the Program Review and Investigations Committee, said the report is important because it will help lawmakers decide whether to pay to hire extra police. “We may wish to make certain things a priority when the budget is finally crafted,” Kissel said. And it’s important for the state police to give adequate coverage to towns that are too small to justify having their own police departments, he said. “We have winding country roads and areas that are hard to reach, but at the same time, Connecticut’s a small state and it’s densely populated,” Kissel said.

Cassano, a long-time proponent of regionalization, said the slower state police response times in rural areas could make the case for regional police forces. “Four or five towns getting together might be able to do a decent job,” he said.