State Sen. Herron Gaston (opinion): Doing what’s right for our police forces

State Sen. Herron Gaston, D-Bridgeport, attends the opening legislative session at the Capitol in January.

State Sen. Herron Gaston, D-Bridgeport, attends the opening legislative session at the Capitol in January.

Brian A. Pounds, Staff Photographer / Hearst Connecticut Media

Recently, I wrote an opinion piece about building and strengthening trust with local law enforcement by them being forthright and clear as to why they've pulled a motorist over. The success of any police officer is heavily placed on respect and rapport for the community they serve, making trust and transparency imperative.

In Connecticut, we have exceptional officers, and bills such as this one only seek to ensure they are all abiding by the same rules, thus creating uniformity across the board. In addition to addressing accountability and transparency, it is also important we continue identifying ways to boost officer retention, to keep our police force strong and properly staffed.

One of the more common-sense methods of improving retention is improving pay. Earlier this year, my colleagues and I passed legislation to establish a new, four-year contract that provides annual pay raises for state troopers. The trooper trainee salaries will increase by 35 percent over several years. The general wage increase for troopers is 2.5 percent per year for three years, plus a one-time bonus of $3,500. The contract is an important step with trooper retainment, as some have moved on to other departments, leaving the state police force. We should do the same for all our police officers in Connecticut. The workload officers manage must be recognized and equitably monetized, especially police departments in economically distressed communities.

As Senate chair of the Public Safety and Security Committee, I am committed to making our already safe state even safer for everyone in all our communities. I am proud of the steps we are taking with a committee bill, House Bill 6863, to explore ways to boost retention and attract new officers. Throughout the legislative process, bills can change in scope and scale, but currently we are discussing incentivizing officers with tuition reimbursement, offering opportunities to continue their education and loan forgiveness, and offering tutoring prep courses at no cost in anticipation for competitive police exams.

Additionally, the committee is considering ways to positively impact early recruitment through pipeline programs at our middle schools and high schools to acclimate young people to the rewarding career of protecting and serving one's community.

This bill would also create a more competitive pension plan and invest resources into a statewide program to assist officers wishing to retire a few years early. Included in the program would be no penalty to their medical and retirement benefits. When taking a job, one shouldn’t think just about the now, but one must also consider the future. With programs implemented to secure one’s financial future and health, it also helps reduce stress over one’s latter years.

Words of encouragement solidify and reinforce that what you are doing matters. Encouraging people shows they are on the right track and helps to provide an atmosphere they feel comfortable in. It would enhance the image of our police departments across our state to share positive stories about their officers who go above and beyond the call of duty, as a way to boost morale and to restore the public trust of our men and women in blue.

Every negative can be turned into a positive. Whether that is growth, finding solutions, or working to better oneself in a future situation, police officers are heroic in their ability to protect and serve the public, and the stories of their hard work, relentless dedication to solving and guarding the public against crime, should be told — not as a bragging tool, but to arouse the consciousness of the public regarding the often untold intricacies that constitutes good policing.

State Sen. Herron Gaston represents the 23nd Senate District, which includes parts of Bridgeport and Stratford.