The Connecticut State Police Union announced a no-confidence vote Tuesday against the department’s top two leaders over the consolidation of dispatch centers that is returning some troopers to road duties.
While the union called the changes a setback to public safety, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy cast the vote in the context of dissatisfaction over negotiations for a contract to replace the agreement that expires June 30.
“Change is hard. Labor relations are hard,” Malloy said. “That’s just a reality. Labor relations at a time when a contract is open are particularly difficult.”
The state police union has had some of the rockiest relations with the Malloy administration, fighting concessions last summer and objecting to elimination of guaranteed staffing levels in state law, a battle lost in the legislature.
Malloy said he has complete confidence in the two leaders: Reuben F. Bradford, the commissioner of emergency services and public protection; and Col. Danny R. Stebbins, the highest-ranking uniformed officer.
“I just want to be very clear: I have the highest regard for the commissioner and the colonel. I think they are doing an absolutley outstanding job, and they have my confidence,” Malloy said.
The union said there were 752 votes of no confidence against Bradford and 760 against Stebbins. Of the 1,016 unionized troopers, sergeants and master sergeants, 794 ballots were validated and counted.
“Unfortunately, the commissioner and colonel have ignored the union membership, refused to communicate with union leadership, and have failed to consider the invaluable experience and knowledge of our membership,” said Sgt. Andrew Matthews, the union president.
He said the rank and file could have helped develop policies that would “have ensured that the quality of public safety is not diminished during these difficult financial times.”
Bradford said there was little to discuss about consolidating dispatch centers and staffing them with civilians, a long-established trend in law enforcement across the country. He saw no need to mend fences.
“My job and Dan’s job is to run the agency from day to day,” said Bradford, a former trooper and former head of security for the NFL. “It’s not to mend fences. I didn’t tear down these fences. We’ll continue to do our jobs.”
Malloy said the objection raised now reminded him of objections he heard in Stamford, where he was mayor, when the city consolidated its 911 call center.
“It was a gigantic controversy. It is everywhere. People see you’re making change. That’s difficult,” Malloy said. “I have lived this kind of change throughout my political career.”
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Matthews tried to rebut administration suggestions that the no-confidence vote was a labor tactic, not an expression of valid concerns about public safety.
He complained of unanswered radio calls.
“The union membership is not resistant to change, just dangerous change,” Matthews said. “They are moving too fast, too soon, and in the wrong direction.”
When the dispatch consolidations are completed, at least 55 uniformed troopers will be available for assignment on the road, Bradford said.
The union is in a difficult position politically. It is looking for legislators to help bring pressure on the Malloy administration, but the legislature sided with the administration on staffing levels.
The union seemed to lose some support in the legislature when it voted overwhelmingly last August to reject a two-year pay freeze accepted by 44,000 other unionized workers.
Only correction supervisors joined them in rejecting the freeze. The two unions did accept concessions in benefits.
The state police did pick up an expression of support Tuesday from Rep. Janice Giegler, R-Danbury, the ranking Republican on the legislature’s Public Safety Committee, whose district is in the area affected by the consolidation of dispatch function for western Connecticut.
Since the consolidation, Troop A in Southbury is open only during weekday business hours, since the dispatchers who once worked there are now assigned to the regional center in Litchfield, she said.
“I fully support almost all efforts to increase efficiency and cost savings in state government; however, not at the cost of public safety and the responsiveness of law enforcement personnel,” Giegler said. “When people call 911, they are often facing a life-threatening situation, and timely emergency help is critically important.”