February 6, 2009
PRIVATE USE OF POLICE TROOPER VEHICLES IN CONNECTICUT
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
Jillian Redding, Legislative Fellow
You want to know when the Connecticut State Police adopted the policy allowing state police officers to keep and use their assigned vehicles off duty for private business and whether neighboring states have similar policies.
Every Connecticut state police officer is assigned a vehicle, which the officer may use off duty for private business. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) pays for maintaining the vehicle. The policy authorizing off-duty vehicle use was included in the state police union labor contract in 1981, when the union was formed. But the practice predates the agreement, probably by decades, according to the union's staff director, Jerry McGuire, and the DPS legislative liaison, Stephen Spellman. They were unable to cite the specific year.
In April 2008, in response to Governor Rell's directive to eliminate the inefficient use of state vehicles and reduce gas consumption, DPS prohibited off-duty state police personnel from obtaining free gas for their assigned vehicles at state police barracks. The union filed a grievance, which was sustained on the grounds that DPS violated the collective bargaining agreement by unilaterally restricting a trooper's vehicle use.
None of the five neighboring states we surveyed have vehicle use policies similar to Connecticut's. Of these five states, three—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island—allow their state police officers to keep their vehicles when off duty. New Jersey and New York restrict this practice to officers in certain units (e.g., Canine and Investigations units). All five states bar officers from using the vehicles for personal business. Two states (Massachusetts and New York) have mechanisms to ensure compliance; two (New Hampshire and New Jersey) operate on an honor system. We were unable to get specific compliance information on Rhode Island.
Vehicle Use Policy
A vehicle is assigned to every Connecticut state police officer, who may drive it while on or off duty with no mileage restrictions within the state. Each of the state's 12 police barracks has a gas pump that the officer may use at anytime to fill up the vehicle. The officer must keep at least a quarter tank of gas in the vehicle in order to be ready to respond immediately to emergencies.
The off-duty vehicle use policy is outlined in the DPS administrative and operations manual and the state police union collective bargaining agreement. The 2007-2010 agreement states that:
During the life of this agreement, the employer shall continue to permit the use of assigned vehicles while off-duty subject to those rules, regulations, and orders promulgated by the Commissioner of Public Safety and existing prior to the signature date of the Agreement.
The Department will continue to provide the associated costs for vehicle maintenance consistent with past practice (Article 29, “Off-Duty Use of State Vehicles”).
The off-duty vehicle use policy was originally included in the 1981-84 collective bargaining contract. The practice predates the agreement and dates back to at least 1965, according to the state police union staff director, Jerry McGuire, and the DPS legislative liaison, Stephen Spellman. But neither official could confirm the specific year when the practice began.
Vehicle Use Restrictions
In the wake of rising gas prices in April 2008, Governor Rell directed state agencies to identify ways to “eliminate unnecessary travel and inefficient use of state vehicles” and reduce fuel consumption. The DPS commissioner's response included barring off-duty state police officers from filling up their assigned vehicles at state police facilities. The union filed a grievance, contending that the ban restricted off-duty use of assigned vehicles in violation of the union contract. The arbitrator sustained the grievance. According to the arbitrator:
It is not for this arbitrator to address whether or not the State's response to the recent increase of gasoline prices was a good idea or even necessary. Rather, the focus herein must be on the limitations placed on the State's ability do so by the collective bargaining agreement in effect between the parties (State of Connecticut Police Union and State of Connecticut, Office of Labor Relations, Case 05-5047, CSPU No. 13-08).
The arbitrator concluded that the “unilateral implementation of the memorandum of May 7, 2008 [which contained the ban] placed a restriction on a Trooper's use of the cruiser that is not permitted [by the agreement]. . . .”
MASSACHUSETTS, NEW HAMPSHIRE, AND RHODE ISLAND
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island allow their state police officers to keep their vehicles while off duty. All three states prohibit the officers from using the vehicles for personal business.
Each week, Massachusetts state police officers must report the mileage on their state-assigned vehicles. The information is entered into a computer database, which is used to monitor mileage and fuel consumption. Any excessive mileage report raises a “red flag” and triggers an investigation. New Hampshire state police officers must maintain radio contact with the State Police dispatch center whenever they use their assigned vehicles. This provides information on their location, which can be used to determine if the officers are violating policy by using the vehicle for private business. It is an “honor system,” according to Bill Graham of the New Hampshire Troopers Association.
About 79% of New Jersey state police officers are authorized to keep their vehicles while off duty, according to Lieutenant Fernee of the New Jersey State Police Research and Development Unit. They include officers in the Investigations and Canine units. Off-duty officers are not authorized to use the vehicles for private business and are prohibited from transporting family members in them. But the agency has no formal mechanism for monitoring such use. Rather, it relies on officers to police themselves. The agency may investigate if it receives any complaints from the public. The sanctions for misusing a vehicle include suspension. In some cases, the agency may take the vehicle away from the offending officer.
The majority of New York state troopers are not allowed to keep their vehicles when off duty, according to the New York State Police. Only a few units are allowed full-time use of their vehicles, including the Investigation, Tactical Response, and Canine units. Commissioned officers are also given unmarked state vehicles which they take home. Officers authorized to use their vehicles off duty may use them only for official purposes, according to department policy and Sergeant Harold A. Litardo, of the New York State Police Division headquarters.
Officers given such vehicles must complete and submit gas sheets every month. The gas sheets document each refueling and the mileage at the beginning and ending of each shift. Supervisors keep track of the gas sheets and watch for any “red flags,” such as excessive mileage or fill-ups, considering the jurisdictions in which the cars are assigned. Further, there are AVL (automated vehicle location) modems, similar to a GPS chip, in several of the marked vehicles. These display the location of the vehicles to dispatchers at all times.