Connecticut is a high-cost state in part because of redundant and overlapping services. To cite an obvious example, there are about 100 emergency call centers in the state, "way too many," said consultant L.R. Kimball in a 2012 report.
In April 2012, the Connecticut State Police took a small step toward government efficiency, introducing a plan to consolidate its 12 call centers to five, one each in the western, central and eastern parts of the state, one at Bradley Airport and one at Troop G in Bridgeport, the busiest call center in the system. No barracks would close.
At that point, the call centers were staffed 24/7 by a trooper and a civilian dispatcher on each eight-hour shift. The plan is to eventually move to all-civilian dispatchers, as is done in many parts of the country including four New England states, allowing the department to put troopers back into what they signed up for, law enforcement.
Early last year, despite intense opposition from the state police union, three call centers were merged into one in western Connecticut, and then four centers were consolidated late last year in eastern Connecticut. The former went smoothly; the latter has engendered opposition.
There's a bill in the General Assembly that would put the consolidation on hold until July 1, 2015, while the commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection evaluates the program. Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, went further, saying at a public hearing Tuesday he would work to reverse the consolidation in areas that don't have police departments.
The bill is unnecessary and Mr. Williams should do nothing of the kind, at least until the consolidation is given a fair chance to succeed.
The bill is unnecessary because the emergency services department's new commissioner, Dora B. Schriro, has already suspended further consolidation until she completes a thorough review of the project. How a department handles its communication is a management function and should be Ms. Schriro's call.
That said, there were glitches in the call center consolidation in eastern Connecticut and legislators from that part of the state, including Mr. Williams, are right to demand that they be corrected. Complaints include barracks not being manned properly, increased response times and a case of a trooper being sent to a wrong address.
A change such as this is likely to have some rough patches. Human error can be reduced with training. It's hard to believe that the glitches in the new system cannot be addressed without undoing the call center consolidation.
Residents in rural parts of the state with a light police presence view state police barracks as their local police stations, as Mr. Williams rightly observed. Though the barracks are open and have call boxes for times when troopers aren't available, look at staffing after hours, perhaps with constables. Solve the problem of tying up troopers with prisoner transfers, another issue here.
Mr. Williams said the old system wasn't broken. No, it wasn't, but it was cumbersome and expensive, a relic from 1956. When they announced the program in 2012, state police officials said the current system was tying up the equivalent of 55 troopers a day. Troopers on call center duty receive "hazardous duty" benefits — pension after 20 years, use of a state car, meal and uniform allowance, etc. — without doing anything remotely hazardous.
With today's communication technology, a modest consolidation such as this should be possible, and the state police should be given a fair chance to execute it.
Instead of dialing it back, communities should be thinking of ways to consolidate the 100 municipal call centers in the state, which are also redundant and expensive. A 2013 study by the New England Center for Public Policy found that if the state cut back to a call center in each of its eight geographical counties, the estimated savings would be more than $60 million.
©2014 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)