Criss is considering a number of options to lower the costs in Harwinton, including hiring a town constable to replace one of the troopers or opting out of the program altogether. Harwinton previously used a combination of constable and resident trooper but switched to resident troopers only under his predecessor.
If the town hired a constable they would not see savings the first year because of initial costs such as purchasing a vehicle, Criss says. But over the next several years the town would save money by not having to pay for larger salaries and benefits.
Plus, the constable would be accountable to the town rather than supervisors at the state police barracks and wouldn’t be called away for other assignments.
“The biggest argument we’ve had over this program is that its double taxation,” Criss said. He points out that residents of Connecticut already pay state taxes to cover the costs of state troopers. Participating towns then tax their residents in order to pay the costs for the RST program.
Towns that drop out of the program are still served by the state police troop responsible for that town, there just isn’t a specific trooper assigned as the top law enforcement officer to the town.
After the state raised the town contribution to 85 percent, several towns lowered the number of resident state troopers or dropped the program. Nine resident trooper positions were eliminated, meaning the state of Connecticut now had to fully cover the costs of those troopers.
Norfolk, a town with only 1,700 people, dropped the program completely, saying the $185,000 price tag was too much for their residents. Thus far, the town has reported no difference in services or crime rates.
Southbury is also considering dropping the program, according to reports.
As more and more towns lower the number of resident state troopers or drop the program altogether, the state is stuck paying for the full costs of those troopers during a time of increased budget deficits.
State trooper layoffs might prove difficult and unpopular as Connecticut currently only employs 1,061 officers, according to state police spokeswoman, Kelly Grant.
Until 2013, Connecticut was required to keep a minimum state police staff of 1,248 sworn officers. Prior to that change in law, Connecticut rarely met the minimum staffing requirements.
Criss says that he is considering a number of options and may ultimately put the question to the taxpayers of Harwinton. “We’re not going to sacrifice public safety – everyone is going to remain safe. But at the end of the game we have to find a more equitable way to do it.”