Members of the local AARP chapter recently gained insight into the Connecticut State Police’s history and what it’s like to be a state trooper.
“It’s a great job,” said Trooper Gregory LeBeau, who recently spoke to the seniors at the Shelton Senior Center. “It’s a great agency.”
The Connecticut State Police is the oldest state police agency in the United States, LeBeau said, and was officially established in 1903, employing three or four troopers.
It had been set up unofficially in 1889 to apprehend bootleggers and gamblers and to enforce state liquor laws.
“There have been a lot of ‘firsts’ in Connecticut,” LeBeau said.
Nation’s oldest canine unit
“We have the oldest canine unit in the country,” he said, which started in 1934, and Connecticut was the first agency to use dogs to detect accelerants (to detect arson).
It also was the first to use radar and two-way radios. “The Secret Service adopted our radio system to protect the president,” LeBeau said.
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The State Police started out with an annual budget of $13,000, which was supplemented by money seized in gambling hall raids. In the early days, troopers worked 60 hours a week and made $91 a month, or $1.12 an hour.
There now are about 1,600 State Police employees in Connecticut, and about 1,100 of those are troopers. “We’re among the smallest,” LeBeau said, compared to a state like Texas, which has about 10,000 state troopers.
The number of Connecticut troopers is “state budget driven,” he said.
“Is there any myth you’d like dispelled?” LeBeau asked audience members.
One person asked if it was true that troopers couldn’t issue traffic tickets if they weren’t wearing their hats.
Another senior asked whether tractor-trailer drivers from some states are better than others. “I’ve never found one state or one company with better drivers,” LeBeau responded.
“I don’t like dealing with tractor-trailers. I’ve seen the worst things,” including accidents caused by “things falling off trucks,” he said.
“I love the Merritt Parkway,” he said, which prohibits trucks, and offers instead “deer, turkeys and birds chirping.”
Busiest troop in the state
LeBeau works out of Troop G in Bridgeport, which he describes as the busiest troop in the state, covering Interstate 95 from the New York state line to Branford, the Merritt Parkway, Route 8 to Exit 11 in Shelton, and parts of routes 7, 25 and 34.
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Also under the troop’s jurisdiction is “every single state building between Branford and New York state,” as well prisons in Bridgeport and New Haven.
Nine troopers cover that entire road system, with more on patrol on holidays and busier days.
“The state police is a paramilitary organization,” LeBeau said, and the term “barracks” — referring to troop headquarters — stems from the days when the top floor used to be a bunkhouse for the troopers.
The troopers’ uniforms and general appearance are dictated by military precision and attention to detail.
The uniforms are equipped with “shiny gun belts that squeak,” he said, as well as an ammunition magazine, a Taser, pepper spray, and a flashlight.
Wearing a bulletproof vest adds to the weight of the uniforms and makes them hotter.
“We get used to carrying the equipment on the uniform, but when you stop running, you realize how heavy it is.
Country’s best uniform
“We’ve been voted the best uniform nationwide,” LeBeau said.
Troopers attend a roll call at the start of a shift, wearing “hats and bats,” or the Stetson hat and baton. They stand in a semicircle for an inspection that focuses on the condition of badges, gun belts and boots.
“It’s a pride thing,” LeBeau said. “I spend more than an hour prepping to go to work. We come into work fully dressed.”
Although the duties of a trooper shouldn’t interfere with being a father and a husband, the job includes early calls and a workday that often goes beyond the hours of a shift.
“It’s a tough balancing act, but it really helps when you love your job,” LeBeau said.
Required to box
Working to stay fit and maintain a good appearance pays off, he said.
According to the findings of researchers who interviewed prisoners who assaulted police officers, it was far less likely that the criminals would assault an officer if he or she looked “well dressed and well groomed,” LeBeau said.
But when troopers must fight, they can rely on good training, because they are required to box, LeBeau said.
“They want to see you get knocked down and out, and get back up. They put us in the ring. If you can’t fight, you’re out,” he said. “At some point, you’re going to tussle with somebody. The advantage you have is that you’re not afraid to fight.”
Women troopers “fight the guys,” he said, and the message to all troopers is “don’t hold back.”
During training, troopers are sprayed intentionally in the eyes with pepper spray while fighting two people and handcuffing someone.
In a real situation, the wind may blow pepper spray into your eyes,” he said.
LeBeau has mixed feelings about eventually leaving the job.
“Half of me can’t wait to retire,” he said. “You live on the point of hyper-vigilance. You’re always looking. You’re the target. People who want to hurt me can’t miss me.
“The other half of me loves the job,” he continued, because of the variety of situations he handles. “There’s a big box of chocolates out there every day.”