They wear a badge, carry a gun, patrol the highways and face many of the same dangers as Connecticut State Police. There’s just one major difference - they don’t collect a paycheck.
Connecticut’s auxiliary state police unit dates back to World War II. In 1941, then-Commissioner Edward Hickey called for a volunteer force to protect the state’s shoreline and military establishment. After the war, the “auxies” were assigned to the state police barracks to assist the troopers.
Over the following decades, new auxiliary volunteers would attend the state police academy for up to 26 weeks on a part-time basis, training for a range of duties including traffic control, assisting troopers at accident and crime scenes, and administrative work. They drive marked state cruisers and wear uniforms, but cannot perform duties that require sworn officer status like making arrests.
“We do not handle fatals, we do not write accident reports, we do not do speeding tickets or enforcement tickets,” Robert Prouty, who now oversees the unit in his 43rd year on the job, said. “We’re there to assist the troopers.”
At its peak, the unit was over 1,200 strong. But today, only 41 members remain on the job. They are the last remaining auxiliaries who were “grandfathered in” when a decision was made to phase out the unit in 1988. That was the year Connecticut State Police adopted new standards for training through CALEA, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. No new auxiliary troopers have been added since then.
While they might not collect a paycheck for the work, auxiliary state troopers still face the same dangers as regular troopers. The I-84 rest area in Southington is named after Edward Truelove of Waterbury, one of two auxies who died in the line of duty.
On November 13, 1992, Truelove stopped for broken down Chevy Blazer on the highway. After moving its two occupants up a hill to safety, Truelove returned to his cruiser to call for a tow. Moments later, a tractor-trailer slammed into his cruiser, which exploded into flames. The Blazer was also totaled in the wreck.
Two years later, on May 25, 1994, Phillip Mingione of Milford was killed as he was standing in the median of I-91 in North Haven. A passing driver lost control of her vehicle and crashed into Mingione.
Mike Suntava, a 38-year veteran, had a close call when he was hit by a drunk driver while directing traffic at the Terryville Fair in 1998.
“I was thrown 111 feet, three inches into the oncoming lane,” Suntava recalls. He was hospitalized for a month with serious injuries. A year later, he returned to his role in the unit, but the memories are still traumatic for him and his wife. “I just worked at the Terryville Fair in August. And going back there, it’s hard for her. Very hard,” he said.
For the last of Connecticut’s auxiliary troopers, the desire to serve has outweighed the real risk of the unpaid position. And for some, like Mike Tiernan, the motivation is deeply personal. Tiernan was rejected from military service for having flat feet. So began his 38 years as a career firefighter and 50 years (and counting) as an auxiliary trooper.
“The things the military said I couldn’t do I proved to them I could do it,” he said.
By now, most of the remaining auxies have long since retired from their civilian careers in business, public service, and other industries. This is the work that keeps them going; A point of pride, paid only in gratitude.
“They get paid every week. We get thanked every week,” Tiernan said. “I’m happy with that.”
Last year alone, the auxiliary unit logged over 16,000 volunteer hours of service to the state. Prouty says millions of dollars in manpower have been saved over the years. He still holds out hope that the unit could somehow be revived in the future.
“There is a possibility that it could happen. And we’re kind of hoping for it, because the amount of money it saves people? It’s unbelievable dollars,” says Prouty.
There appears to be some confusion, however, over whether that’s possible.
Under state statutes, the direction of the auxiliary unit lies squarely under the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection. The office of Commissioner Dora B. Schriro declined to participate in an interview for this story or elaborate on the decision to phase out the program in 1988, stating only, "we cannot comment on decisions that were made in 1988. There are no plans to add any new auxiliaries.”