Seeking to recruit new police officers at a difficult time, the state legislature voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for a new, four-year contract that provides annual pay raises for state troopers to deter them from joining municipal police forces.
The contract, lawmakers said, is an important step in retaining troopers because many would-be troopers have been recruited by other departments.
“Young police officers are going to neighboring municipalities,’' said state Rep. Michael D’Agostino, a Hamden Democrat who led the floor debate for the House Democrats. “You can go to Glastonbury and earn $18,000 more per year than a state trooper. ... Our main competition, amazingly enough, are municipalities in Connecticut.’’
After a debate lasting slightly more than an hour, the state House of Representatives voted 142-1. Following a similar debate, the Senate approved the contract by 35-1.
The only negative vote in the House was cast by Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, a conservative Republican from Wolcott who said she voted against the contract for financial reasons. Noting that she voted against the police accountability law and has been a strong supporter of police, she said she is concerned about what taxpayers can afford.
With Connecticut behind other departments, the trooper trainee salaries will increase by 35% over several years. The trainees will earn $65,638 in 2024, up from $50,000 in the current year. In addition, the pay will then increase in 2025 to $67,279 - marking the 35% increase over the current rate.
The general wage increase for troopers is 2.5% per year for three years, plus a one-time bonus of $3,500 that other state employees received last year as an incentive to remain on the job and avoid a retirement package. The total incremental cost to the state is $10 million in the current fiscal year, $15 million next year, and $20 million in the following year. The fourth year could fluctuate because there is a “wage re-opener’' as the salaries will be negotiated in the future.
The four-year deal has no impact on retirement and health care benefits, which are negotiated separately.
While police and legislators often focus on starting pay for rookies, the amount earned by veteran officers is far higher. With overtime, more than 10 troopers were paid more than $300,000 in 2021, according to state records. More than 100 union members were paid more than $200,000 each, and a sergeant was paid more than $350,000.
The state police have been spending more than $30 million per year for overtime in recent years to cover various shifts and assignments, officials said.
Connecticut, lawmakers said, needs to compete with other states. Troopers in Rhode Island, for example, have a base pay of $86,000 per year after six years.
Even as the House was still voting, the state Senate began its debate at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“This is a fair contract,’' said Sen. Cathy Osten, the co-chairwoman of the budget-writing appropriations committee. “I have supported the state police in every contract that has come before me. ... I’m very pleased with the results of this contract.’'
But Sen. Rob Sampson, a conservative Republican from Wolcott who voted against the contract, said many Connecticut residents are struggling to make ends meet at a time of high inflation.
“I don’t know anyone in the private sector who is doing that well,’' Sampson said. “I have promised my constituents every year that I will not increase spending or raise taxes.’'
He argued that the concept that any legislator who votes against the contract is somehow disrespectful of police “is beyond the pale. It’s not acceptable and shouldn’t be allowed in this chamber.’'
During a wide-ranging speech on the Senate floor that he described as a “tirade,’' Sampson said, “I respect police. ... The better option is to pass better policy than this. ... I regret voting no today. ... It’s irresponsible to be passing things that will make our budget piecemeal. This is not a fiscally sound contract in my mind.’'
Among other provisions, the troopers will receive $500 per year to improve health and wellness, which can be used for gym memberships or yoga lessons, officials said. After graduating from the academy, troopers spend about a year in training with pay that is about 10% below the level of trooper, officials said.
While officials would like to train 100 candidates at a time, the current academy class is only about 35, officials said.
State Rep. Tammy Nuccio, a Tolland Republican who serves as the ranking member on the budget-writing committee, said the contract was important because troopers and other police officers are willing to take the physical risks in a highly difficult job.
“It’s not a job that I would want to do, but I am so grateful that there are people out there who are willing to do it,’' Nuccio said. “I’m a very fiscally conservative person, and a $70 million pricetag is a large lump to swallow. ... But I don’t think we can ignore the Connecticut and national anti-police’' atmosphere.
Like other Republicans, Nuccio said that police suffered from the outrage generated over the death of George Floyd while handcuffed in police custody in Minneapolis.
“Our police forces felt the wrath of that incident,’' she said.
While the numbers change constantly with retirements and new hirings, the state police today have about 876 troopers. A state law, which was repealed by then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a budget implementation bill, had previously said that the state needed a minimum of 1,248 troopers. But the numbers have been far below that level for years.
“When we’re at these levels, our safety is compromised,’' Nuccio said. “Every trooper I know says traffic enforcement is a luxury.’'
While responding to assaults and major incidents, troopers simply do not have the time to conduct traffic enforcement, she said.
“When troopers are working 80 or 90 hours a week, they’re not as sharp as they can be,’' she said.
Rep. Thomas O’Dea, a New Canaan Republican, said the new police accountability law that was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont in 2020 led to decreased morale among police.
“I hate to say, I told you so,’' O’Dea said. “Stops are less than a third of what they were supposed to be. ... Active policing is imperative to keep us safe. ... I’d like to see the consent searches again.’'
Rep. Greg Howard, who also works as a veteran police officer in Stonington, said the police accountability law hurt the recruitment and morale of officers. He said that legislators driving to Hartford notice few state troopers on the highways as enforcement has been reduced in recent years.
“Police officers often aren’t looking for what they get for pay,’' Howard said on the House floor. “It wasn’t about money for me 21 years ago. It was about doing a job. ... The money was just something that came with it. ... They feel they are not being encouraged. They feel they are not being supported.’'
“I could have stood up and said is it germane to talk about the police accountability bill? I didn’t,’' D’Agostino said. “There’s a myriad of factors that affect one’s motivation to be a police officer. ... If we could focus on this contract, let’s have some hearty debates’' later in the session.
Freedom of information
One point of concern was that troopers could attempt to block access to their personnel files if there is a reasonable belief that there would be an invasion of personal privacy if the file was released publicly. The contract, though, does not define “reasonable belief’' or “invasion of privacy,’' lawmakers said.
The issue has been a point of contention for years among legislators and state police.
Lamont, whose labor representative negotiated the details, strongly backed the contract as way to improve the department.
“The answer is not staffing levels,’' Lamont said when asked Wednesday at the Capitol complex. “The answer is attracting more, in this case, state police, and that will answer itself. We’re going to get more state police. We’re going to have a bigger recruiting class. I think the additional pay, which got strong bipartisan support, it’s gonna reflect that fact. And we’re going to continue to build up our state police force.”
Lamont dismissed Republican arguments that the police accountability law hurt recruiting and retention.
“Well, I’ve heard that before,’' Lamont said. “I know we’ve hired more police in the last few years than ever before. And I also believe that with the better starting pay, you’re going to see that reflect in the bigger recruiting class again.”
Courant staff writer Alison Cross contributed to this report.
Christopher Keating can be reached at email@example.com