Closing the Connecticut State Police Troop I barracks in Bethany is among a series of steps state lawmakers are considering to bridge a budget gap this year, much to the chagrin of town leaders in Beacon Falls and Prospect.
“I would be opposed to that. It would cause problems for us,” Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said. “It would take a lot of police out of town. Every trooper that goes to work comes through Prospect, so we have a lot of state police traffic.”
Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik said he has already reached out to state legislators to voice his opposition to closing Troop I.
“I think this would be a disaster for us. It would at least double the response time,” Bielik said. “It would have an immediate negative impact on our ability to provide service in town.”
Troop I, which is located at 631 Amity Road in Bethany, serves 19 area municipalities. Out of the 19 towns, only three — Beacon Falls, Prospect and Bethany — don’t have their own independent police department.
Beacon Falls, Prospect and Bethany participate in the Resident State Trooper Program. The towns pay a portion of the costs for the program, which increased this fiscal year. Each town uses part-time police officers and relies on state troopers to respond to calls, as well.
The proposal to shutter Troop I is part of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s plan to close a projected budget gap of $350 million to $370 million in this year’s $19.8 billion budget. State lawmakers have been negotiating a deal to close the gap and a decision is expected soon.
House Republican Leader Themis Klarides (R-114), state Rep. Lezlye Zupkus (R-89) and state Sen. Joseph Crisco, Jr. (D-17) released a joint statement opposing the proposed closing of the barracks.
“We strongly oppose the closure of the Troop I barracks as it is an integral part of our public safety infrastructure and provides invaluable, life-saving resources to our residents. The state police provide local as well as regional protection, and at a time of heightened concern about public safety, we should look elsewhere for cost savings,” the statement reads.
Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs in the Office of Policy and Management Gian-Carl Casa said closing Troop I could potentially save the state in excess of $1.3 million.
“The Governor made this proposal as part of a comprehensive package of changes designed to close a potentially large state budget shortfall this year and to make structural budget changes that will save even more in the future,” Casa said.
Casa said Troop I was chosen to be closed because 16 of the towns it serves, including Naugatuck, have their own police force totaling approximately 1,400 local officers. Since Beacon Falls, Prospect and Bethany all take part in the Resident State Trooper program, Casa added, none of the towns rely solely on state police patrols.
Naugatuck Police Deputy Chief Joshua Bernegger said the department utilizes Troop I’s resources, such as its breathalyzer equipment and holding facility, on occasion. However, he said, it’s infrequent and closing the barracks won’t have a major impact on the department.
“The Naugatuck Police Department has always maintained a very good working relationship with Troop I, and we will be saddened if the proposed closure occurs,” Bernegger said. “It is comforting to know there are resources next door in Bethany in the event we need assistance.”
Casa said if Troop I were to close the patrols could be split between Troop G in Bridgeport, Troop F in Westbrook, Troop A in Southbury, and possibly the Connecticut State Police headquarters in Middletown.
Casa said the troopers would be redeployed to help cover overtime shifts at other barracks.
However, it isn’t just coverage that town officials are worried about losing.
Both Bielik and Chatfield voiced concerns about where people would be brought after they’ve been arrested if Troop I is closed. Neither town has its own holding cell.
Chatfield said the town would need 24-hour coverage at the police station in order to have a holding cell in town.
Neither Prospect nor Beacon Falls has the amount of officers to have someone on duty at their stations around the clock.
If the barracks close Bielik said the town will just have to react to the loss and do the best it can in the short term. In the long term, he said, the town will continue to look into the possibility of starting its own police force.
“It’s more incentive for us to look to divorce ourselves from Resident State Trooper program,” Bielik said.