New Head Of State Police Has Background In Running Prisons

Dora Schiro speaks to the media after she was introduced as the new commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection by Gov. Dannel Malloy. (Tom Carl, FOX CT)

Dora B. Schriro, a respected lawyer who has spent most of her career running prisons in New York City, Arizona and Missouri and who has never served as a police officer, was named Monday as state police commissioner.

Schriro was the only candidate interviewed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to run the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. He talked with Schriro previously when she was seeking the job as the head of Connecticut's prisons. That job recently went to James E. Dzurenda of Stratford, but Malloy kept Schriro's name in mind — remembering that her resume includes a wide variety of experiences, including a doctorate in education from Columbia University in New York City.

"My conversation with the doctor was one of the most fascinating interviews I've ever had,'' Malloy said Monday. "I keep kind of a mental Rolodex for jobs that may have to be filled at some time in the future, and when it became evident that the [state police] commissioner was thinking about calling it a day, I knew who I wanted. ... She was my first choice.''

Schriro will be taking over a department wracked by low morale in recent years under retiring commissioner Reuben F. Bradford and Col. Danny Stebbins, who both received nearly unanimous votes of no confidence in June 2012. Angered by changes in dispatching, troop consolidation, the minimum staffing level for troopers, and the "disrespectful attitude'' of top supervisors, the state police union staged the first vote of no confidence since the union was established 31 years earlier.

Schriro, 63, will be the first female commissioner in a department that has about 90 women out of more than 1,000 troopers — about 9 percent. She will be paid $178,000 annually — an amount higher than the governor's salary.

A native of Staten Island, Schriro is currently the commissioner for New York City's corrections department – overseeing a gigantic agency with more than 10,000 employees and about 12,000 prison inmates. She arrives regularly at about 7:30 a.m. at the notorious Rikers Island prison for her workday.

Both Malloy and the state police union president, Andrew Matthews, said Schriro's lack of a police background was not a problem. In the past the state police have been led by former Judge Nicholas Cioffi under Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and former Judge Arthur Spada and longtime prosecutor John Connelly under Gov. John G. Rowland.

"In our opinion, she has all the credentials. Her resume makes her qualified to do the job,'' Matthews said Monday. "In our opinion, you don't need to be a former trooper to be the commissioner of the state police or the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. Sometimes, actually it would probably be more beneficial to the success of the entire agency if they weren't. ... I don't think it's a requirement or should be a prerequisite that you were a former trooper on the job.''

Because the department has been plagued in recent years with a lack of communication, Matthews said he is looking forward to a new day and new leadership.

Standing behind the press corps near the back of the news conference, Matthews said immediately before the announcement that he had no advance notice about the person being chosen and did not know that she was a woman. He stepped forward after the news conference, spoke briefly with Malloy, and then was introduced to Schriro for the first time. They spoke briefly, and Matthews had a good first impression.

"We're going to help her succeed. Hearing her say that she was open to listening to us is all we've ever asked for," Matthews said.

"It's historical to have our first female commissioner. ... It's a great change for us. ... Look, we're not asking for people to do what we want them to do. We're asking for people to just listen to all sides and make the decision for herself."

A lawyer who also has degrees from Columbia, UMass Boston and Northeastern University, Schriro returned to New York City at the behest of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg in September 2009. She had previously worked closely with Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano as a special adviser on issues such as customs enforcement, immigration and detention policy.

Before working with Napolitano, who has since left Homeland Security, Schriro directed prisons in Missouri and Arizona. She ran the prisons in Arizona while Napolitano was governor.

Schriro and Napolitano were mentioned in a federal lawsuit that was filed by James T. Hayes Jr., a senior federal immigration agent who charged that he was essentially pushed aside for a top position that was awarded to Schriro, who he claimed was less qualified. The discrimination lawsuit said that the agency's female chief of staff had "created a frat house-type atmosphere that is targeted to humiliate and intimidate male employees.'' The suit was settled out of court in 2012.