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Prospect of accountability outrages State Police union

The Chris Powell Column

While Connecticut’s new police legislation is questionable in one respect — its vague reduction of the “qualified immunity” officers have against lawsuits — its broad objective is plainly in the public interest: to improve the work of the police and increase their accountability to their departments and the public.

That broad objective is why the state troopers union objects to the new law — so much so that the union this week declared that its members overwhelmingly had voted no confidence in Gov. Ned Lamont and Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella and Lt. Col. J. Scott Eckersley. 

Even more than other government employee unions, the trooper union hates accountability. It wants its members to be free to abuse people as Trooper Matthew Spina was caught on video abusing a motorist he stopped in New Haven in May.

The union charges the commissioner with not standing up for Spina after his crazed rant was posted on the internet, embarrassing Connecticut internationally. Yes, instead the commissioner stood up for the public, taking the trooper off patrol, transferring him to desk duty, and eventually suspending him for two days and assigning him to more training — pretty mild discipline for all the trouble he had caused.

The union is also sore at the governor, the General Assembly, and the commissioner because the new law nullifies the provision of the state trooper contract that conceals unverified complaints of misconduct by troopers, exempting such complaints from state freedom-of-information law. This provision invites cover-ups in the State Police, of which there have been many over the years.

That the State Police have dismissed even perfectly documented complaints against troopers is public record. Most notorious lately is the case of Michael Picard, a protester who in 2016 caught three state troopers on video as they fabricated evidence against him. This video was posted on the internet as well and caused a scandal. A State Police investigation atrociously cleared the troopers, but Picard sued in federal court and in February the state police paid him $50,000 to settle.

But the troopers union also may be sore at the commissioner for the prosecution of a trooper who last September appears to have gotten drunk at a retirement party in Oxford and drove off in his state car, ran a stop sign, and smashed into a car in Southbury, injuring its two passengers. Driving a state car after drinking violates State Police department rules. A spokesman for the commissioner says a criminal investigation is continuing into drinking and driving by other troopers at the party. Did those other troopers vote no confidence in the commissioner because he might be losing confidence in them?

Another thing about the accountability law may bother the union as well, though the union isn’t talking about it. That is, the law requires state troopers to undergo periodic recertification and training, just as is required for municipal police officers. If recertification is good for municipal officers, it can’t be bad for state troopers, except that it may deprive them of the perverse feeling of superiority because their standards are lower.

All this misconduct in the State Police should get people wondering: How does the public benefit from the trooper union and state and municipal government employee unions generally? Of course those unions exist to serve their members, not the public, but being organized politically they achieve contracts that provide excessive compensation, conceal misconduct, and generally hamper public administration.

 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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