Hartford Courant photo.
Dora Schriro has a glittering resume and Gov. Dannel Malloy likes to call her a “nationally recognized leader” in running prison systems. She’s also clearly not afraid of breaking into what, until now, has been a bastion of male domination.
But the question is, does she really understand what she’s getting into by becoming Connecticut’s new commissioner of public safety?
Not only is Schriro the first woman to oversee Connecticut’s ultra-macho State Police force, she’s also a non-cop, something that hasn’t gone down well for past non-cop public safety commissioners.
And Schriro is also not a long-time resident of our weird little state, which means she’s probably unfamiliar with the sort of nasty in-fighting that’s plagued our state cop agency for decades.
No matter what happens or how well Schriro does, it’s historically unlikely that Schriro will be around for all that long.
Her predecessor, Reuben F. Bradford, was a former Connecticut state police officer who was working for the NFL when Malloy convinced him to take over as public safety chief in 2011.
That history didn’t protect him from angry criticism from the state police union and others upset with Bradford’s decision to consolidate emergency management centers as a cost-cutting measure. Nor did it insulate him from harsh questions about why it took so long for his agency to issue a final report on the Sandy Hook school killings.
Bradford cited an “anomaly with my retirement” pension as his reason for leaving, which is kind of peculiar. You’d think any pension issues involving a former state cop returning as commissioner would have been settled long before he agreed to take the job.
Leaving that aside, the fact that Bradford is departing less than three years after arriving isn’t at all unusual in Connecticut. The only public safety commissioner we’ve had in the past two decades to hit the four year mark in tenure was Arthur L. Spada.
Spada was a highly controversial public safety chief for the final four years of the scandal-plagued regime of our felonious former governor, John G. Rowland. After Rowland resigned to avoid impeachment (a move that failed to save him from a federal prison term for corruption), Spada also quickly hit the exit.
It’s almost become a tradition for this state’s public safety commissioners to run into strong criticism from inside and/or outside the state police, and for them to run out of steam pretty quickly.
Here’s the list of the public safety commissioners since 1995: Kenneth H. Kirschner (January 1995-August 1997); William McGuire (August 1997-January 1998); John Connelly (January 1998-June 1998); Henry C. Lee (July 1998-May 2000); Spada (June 2000-August 2004); John A. Danaher III (March 2007-May 2010); James M. ‘Skip’ Thomas (June 2010-March 2011); Bradford (April 2011-January 2014).
Of course, the job of public safety chief in Connecticut doesn’t only mean overseeing the state police. He, and now she, is also responsible for homeland security, firearms permits, building safety inspections and a bunch of other stuff.
But it’s always been the state police that’s been the flash point for whoever is on the public safety hot seat. Schriro shouldn’t expect anything different.
At least she’s not a novice when it comes to dealing with controversy.
She’s coming from the top job in the New York City Correction Department (a sure-fire spot for carping and criticism). Before that, she held posts in Janet Napolitano’s U.S. Homeland Security agency (another place where she ran into controversy), and headed both the Arizona and Missouri prison systems.
Theoretically, Schriro should be prepared for the crap she’s certain to face here in Connecticut.
Of course, if Malloy doesn’t win reelection this year – and that’s at least an even-money bet – her term as commissioner could end way fast.
Presumably, she’s already go an exit strategy worked out, an essential requirement for every incoming Connecticut commissioner of public safety.
[Note: My original post included the incorrect information that Connecticut's Public Safety Department had jurisdiction over corrections. It doesn't, and the only explanation I have for that error is a case of post-holiday brain-freeze. GBH.]