Police officers march during the commencement ceremony of the Central Connecticut State University on May 14, 2022. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

The General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a new contract Wednesday that could boost wages for state police nearly 10% in its first year as Connecticut tries to reverse a longstanding recruitment problem.

But while legislators praised the four-year deal for beginning to restore competitive salaries for troopers, members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and others questioned some provisions of the contract that restrict public access to grievance and internal affairs matters.

The contract, which now heads to the full House and Senate for consideration, is retroactive to July 1 and includes 2.5% general wage hikes this fiscal year and in each of the next two. The package includes a re-opener provision that will resolve salaries for the fourth fiscal year, 2025-26, at a future date.

The package includes three new types of bonuses:

  • A $3,500 bonus for all troopers immediately upon legislative ratification, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.
  • Annual lump sum bonuses equal to 2% of salary for all troopers at the top pay step.
  • And a new $500 per year payment for troopers who earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

To accelerate recruitment, the package also reforms pay for trainees and troopers new to the job.

The pay for a trooper trainee increases from a fixed $50,000 per year to a moving wage equal to 10% of the first pay step for troopers. That would immediately boost the trainee compensation to $64,038 in the first year of the contract.

The agreement also eliminates the first two pay grades for troopers.

Troopers currently are eligible to earn $65,086 per year at the first step and $67,248 once promoted to the second. Under the agreement though, the current Step 3, $69,417, becomes the new first step.

Other provisions include:

  • A new $500 health stipend that troopers and their families can use annually to pay for gym memberships and other wellness programs.
  • A $150 increase in the annual cleaning stipend, and a $25 increase in the stipend for shoes and equipment.
  • Increased funding for veteran officers who provide field training for less experienced troopers.

According to Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget office, the average salary for troopers would increase this fiscal year by 9.7%, from $89,373 to $98,075. Average compensation would increase 3% in the second fiscal year of the contract and by 4.8% in the third.

[RELATED: Lamont and state police union: New contract should boost recruitment]

According to the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, the deal would cost the state $10.7 million this fiscal year, $15.5 million next year, $20.6 million in 2024-25 and $23.5 million in 2025-26 if existing wage and other provisions are extended for a fourth year.

“This agreement allows us to compete for the best and the brightest,” said Office of Policy and Management Undersecretary David Krayeski, who heads the Office of Labor Relations within OPM.

Connecticut’s state police force, generally, has been shrinking for more than a decade, and wages no longer are competitive — not only with other states but also with municipal departments in Connecticut, Krayeski told Appropriations Committee members.

For example, West Hartford municipal police start at about $73,000 per year — almost $4,000 than state troopers will earn at the first pay step under the new contract, Krayeski said. And new municipal officers in Glastonbury begin at around $78,000.

“This is a critical moment for the Connecticut state police,” he said.

The state police constitute a division within the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, and Commissioner James Rovella told lawmakers the state police force currently stands at 877.

By comparison, the force stood at roughly 1,100 one decade ago when the troopers union battled then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in court because a statute directing a minimum level of 1,248 troopers was not being followed. Malloy would convince legislators, ultimately, to drop that standard.

[RELATED: State police ratify deal to make them best-paid cops in Connecticut]

Staffing among state police, and across most state agencies, shrank considerably throughout most of the 2010s as Malloy and the legislature often used attrition to whittle down frequent budget deficits.

Rovella said “1,100 troopers would get us back to business,” but with recruiting classes often graduating 30 to 40 candidates at a time, he added, it likely will take several years with a strong emphasis on recruitment to reach that target.

Master Sgt. Todd Fedigan, president for the Connecticut State Police Union, said the downsizing has taken a heavy toll in experience. The force routinely had between 200 and 300 members with more than 20 years of experience each, he said. Now there are just 17.

“This tentative agreement is a great example of a contract that is good for everyone,” said Andrew Matthews, executive director for the troopers’ union, who added that members already have overwhelmingly ratified the deal.

Legislators from both parties echoed the need to bolster the state police ranks.

Minority Republicans said the compensation is needed not only to reverse the staffing crisis but also to overcome damage to morale caused by Lamont and the Democratic-controlled legislature through the 2020 passage of an omnibus police accountability measure.

The bill, enacted over the union’s objections, sparked a vote of no confidence in Lamont from the troopers.

“Nationally, it’s been rough to be a police officer,” said Rep. Tammy Nuccio of Tolland, ranking House Republican on the committee. “I know morale is low.”

Sen. Eric Berthel of Watertown, ranking GOP senator on the panel, said the accountability measure is “a mitigating factor” in Connecticut’s struggles to retain state police troopers.

But the co-chairwoman of the Democratic-controlled Appropriations Committee said appreciation for the state police is a bipartisan trait.

While Republicans were attacking the police accountability measure, said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, they should remember it was Democrats who usually stood alone year after year approving raises for all state employees. 

“The fact is we should come together and not pick apart the fact that you [Republicans] may never have voted for a collective bargaining agreement before today,” Osten said. “It’s a much more complicated discussion.”

And Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven, the committee’s other co-chairwoman, said Democrats are committed to helping state police — and many others who’ve worked extra hours providing vital services as the state’s workforce has shrunk.

“This is a critical front line for our communities,” Walker said of the police union. “But so are the teachers, and so are the nurses, and so are all the other front-line people who have gotten us through the last three years of crisis.”

Questions about transparency

Despite the bipartisan endorsement, members of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, who lobbied hard for the 2020 accountability measure, raised several questions about key transparency issues in the contract — and they weren’t alone.

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, questioned language in the existing police contract, that also is retained in the tentative deal, that exempts grievance hearings from immediate public access. Grievance hearing records are available for review after the matter has been adjudicated.

The state’s Freedom of Information Commission also seized on this point in written testimony.

“The public’s right to access public hearings (as recognized in the FOI Act and court decisions), where evidence and argument are offered in support of, or against, a filed grievance, should not be contracted away,” wrote the commission’s executive director, Colleen M. Murphy.

Caucus members and the FOIC also questioned language, both in the current contract and the new tentative deal, that allows affected troopers to temporarily block the public release of a performance review or internal affairs investigation if they believe this would constitute an invasion of privacy.

In that event, documents would not be released until a final determination has been made by the FOIC. But existing right-to-know law already has established exemptions for basic personnel and medical information. The contract language, however, gives the state police considerable discretion to decide what constitutes an invasion of privacy.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.