Towns exploring sharing police services

Small town officials statewide have decried an increase in the amount they are expected to pay to participate in the resident state trooper program.

Officials have been looking for new ways to patrol their respective communities since the state increased the town’s cost share to use troopers last year.

Now, Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik and Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield are working with Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess and the Naugatuck Police Department to determine a way to share services.

“We are trying to totally separate ourselves entirely from the resident trooper program,” Bielik said.

Chatfield said the town has explored other options in the past, such as sharing a state trooper with Beacon Falls and Bethany, which didn’t come to fruition. The discussion with Naugatuck, he said, is another possibility the town is investigating.

“This is just another avenue that we’re checking to see what’s best for the taxpayers of the town,” Chatfield said.

Leaders from the three towns are discussing a plan that would allow Beacon Falls and Prospect to use the holding cell, the evidence room and possibly other areas at the Naugatuck Police Department’s headquarters on Spring Street.

Last year, the state increased the fee for municipalities in the resident trooper program from 70 percent of the overall cost to 85 percent. The state set the new figures in June, after most municipalities already had their budgets set.

The resident trooper program is used by municipalities that do not have full police departments.

A total of 56 cities and towns in Connecticut use the resident state trooper program, according to the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. The state police are the primary force in 81 towns; 25 towns don’t have police departments or resident troopers but are still covered by the state police.

Beacon Falls and Prospect both have one resident trooper, which cost the towns $145,000 last year between paying portions of salary, benefits and a police cruiser. That was up from $123,983 the year prior.

The cost of the program is set to increase to $162,757 in 2016-17, according to a budget proposal Chatfield presented on Tuesday night.

Small town leaders believe it’s only a matter of time before they will be asked to pay the full cost of a resident trooper.

In Beacon Falls, Bielik said the potential savings is unclear at this point. If the town does part ways with its lone trooper, it will probably hire another officer, officials say. Currently, there are three full-time Beacon Falls officers and nine part-timers, Bielik said.

Prospect currently has one part-time administrative lieutenant and 16 part-time officers aside from the resident state trooper.

Having all local officers would allow the towns to have full control over the duties they perform. Currently, troopers can be called out of the communities where they are stationed if the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Safety needs their services somewhere else.

If the towns come to an agreement, they would not share officers, just facilities and other resources. Naugatuck has 56 sworn officers.

Hess said this would be a win-win for the communities in that Naugatuck would get revenue from Beacon Falls and Prospect and the towns would not have to pay the full amount of the resident trooper program.

“I think there would be better overall police protection for the towns, too,” he said.

He said he is talking with other municipalities about sharing services to save money.

“We are at an early phase of our regional approach to cost sharing among towns,” he said. “I think because towns are looking to save money, regionalization should be encouraged.”

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.

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