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New head for troubled Connecticut police agency

Connecticut Governor's Office

Dora Schriro was announced as Commissioner of the Dept. Of Emergency Services and Public Protection

The troubled state law enforcement agency that oversaw the investigation of the Newtown massacre will now be run by an outsider who has overseen prisons but has never served as a police officer.

Dora Schriro, a former Department of Homeland Security official who currently heads the New York City Corrections Department, was appointed Monday by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy as commissioner of the state’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) starting on Jan. 31. She will oversee more than 1,000 state troopers and five other public safety agencies.

Former DESPP Commissioner Reuben Bradford resigned in December, and the current top official of the State Police, Col. Danny Stebbins, has been under fire from the force’s rank-and-file. Both men received  overwhelming votes of “no confidence” from police union members in mid 2012.

Schriro’s experience with other agencies and status as an “outsider” were hailed on Monday by Andy Matthews, who represents Connecticut’s troopers as president of the Connecticut State Police Union.

“We will do everything we can to help her succeed to better protect the public and troopers in the field,” Matthews said.  He added that he is “excited and optimistic” because Schriro plans to travel the state and meet “with the people that make this a great agency.”

Gov. Malloy praised Schriro as “immensely qualified” and said she “has proven herself to be an exceptional leader in several states across the country, specifically when it comes to focusing on methods that reduce recidivism and lower crime.”

Schriro joined the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 as an advisor to Secretary Janet Napolitano after serving for six years as the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections and eight years as the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections. Later the same year she was appointed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead that city’s Corrections Department, which has 9,500 officers.

Bloomberg lauded Malloy’s choice of Schriro. “Dora Schriro has been an integral part of our efforts to make New York City the safest big city in America,” said Bloomberg. “Her dynamic strategies to reduce violence and her experience working people who have been in contact with the criminal justice system will be an asset for improving public safety as a whole in Connecticut. I want to congratulate Governor Malloy on a really terrific appointment.”

In a lawsuit filed against former DHS Secretary Napolitano, however, a DHS official alleged that he was pushed aside in favor of Schriro despite her lack of experience in federal law enforcement because of Schriro’s personal connection with Napolitano and DHS Chief of Staff Suzanne Barr.

In addition to alleging favoritism, the lawsuit accused Barr of creating a ‘frat-house’ type atmosphere” at DHS intended “to humiliate and intimidate male employees.”  Barr resigned from the agency in September 2012 during an internal review.

The lawsuit was settled in November 2012 with no acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Napolitano or Barr. A DHS spokeswoman at the time labeled the charges “unfounded.”

Calls by NBC News on Monday to Schriro, Napolitano, Barr and the DHS for comment were not returned.

Asked about the lawsuit, police union head Matthews said troopers are “not going to let that interfere with us helping [Schriro] to do her job.”

The Connecticut State Police, which was founded in 1903, recently concluded an exhaustive investigation into the shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School by Adam Lanza. The report, which ran more than 11,000 pages, did not draw any definitive conclusions for Lanza’s motive.

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