Governor Lamont Announces Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella Retiring From State Service, Nominates Ronnell Higgins as Successor
Ronnell A. Higgins (Photo courtesy of Yale University)
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(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Ned Lamont today announced that he has received notification from Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) Commissioner James C. Rovella regarding his intention to retire from state service effective next month.
To ensure a smooth transition of leadership at this critical state agency, which consists of six divisions and is responsible for providing a broad range of the state’s public safety, emergency response, and homeland security services, Governor Lamont announced that he will be nominating Ronnell A. Higgins to succeed Commissioner Rovella in this leadership position immediately upon his retirement.
Additionally, Colonel Stavros Mellekas, deputy commissioner of DESPP and commanding officer of the Connecticut State Police, which is a division of DESPP, plans to step down from his service with the state. Higgins will identify a successor to serve in this role.
Commissioner Rovella has served as the head of DESPP throughout the duration of the Lamont administration, which began in January 2019. His spent his career in public safety, first starting as a patrol officer, then detective, with the Hartford Police Department. He then spent 12 years working for the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, where he oversaw cold case and other investigations. Following this, he returned to the Hartford Police Department to become its chief of police, and then was asked by Governor Lamont to serve in his current position with the state.
“Commissioner Rovella is a valued and well-respected member of my administration and Connecticut’s law enforcement community, and throughout his career he has provided the people of Hartford and the residents of our entire state with service that has improved the safety of our neighborhoods while focusing on efforts that reduce recidivism and build stronger communities,” Governor Lamont said. “He is incredibly hardworking and has made many sacrifices to make himself available day and night in this critical role for longer than nearly any other commissioner in the past fifty years. I applaud his service to Connecticut and the people of our state, and I wish him nothing but the very best on this well-earned new chapter in his life.”
“I truly appreciate the opportunity to serve the people of Connecticut, as well as all of the many dedicated professionals who work across each division of DESPP,” Commissioner Rovella said. “I am immensely proud of our team and respect their passionate work and loyalty to ensure the safety and protection of the people of our state. Connecticut’s public safety and emergency response services and those who provide them are among the best, and I am thankful to have had this opportunity to serve as commissioner overseeing these operations.”
Higgins currently serves with Yale University in the position of associate vice president for public safety and community engagement, which he has held since June 2022. Immediately prior to being appointed to that position, he served as Yale’s chief of police beginning in 2011, and concurrently served as director of public safety beginning in 2015. He first joined Yale’s police department in 1997 as a police officer and served the department in several ranks, including as sergeant, patrol commander, and lieutenant. Prior to joining Yale, Higgins worked as a correction officer with the Connecticut Department of Correction at the Bridgeport Correctional Center from 1994 to 1997.
“Ronnell Higgins has been a member of Connecticut’s law enforcement community for nearly thirty years, including service as a correction officer before becoming a police officer and being promoted to several ranks that eventually led him to becoming a police chief, in which he oversaw public safety and emergency management operations at one of our state’s largest police departments,” Governor Lamont said. “He is respected locally and nationally for his knowledge, service, and aptitude, and his experience makes him more than capable of leading this critical, multi-division state agency. I appreciate his willingness to join state service and I look forward to his leadership in this role.”
“I am truly honored at the opportunity to serve as the next commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection for the State of Connecticut,” Higgins said. “I am looking forward to applying my experiences, as well as listening, learning, and leading this important, six-division agency.”
In his current position, Higgins is responsible for developing relationships and partnerships among those in the Yale community with the goal of listening to every voice and ensuring those throughout the community have access and resources to the public safety resources they need. He also serves as a key liaison to the broader New Haven community by identifying points of intersection among campus safety, community safety, and community engagement. He is the first person to serve in the role.
During his tenure as police chief and director of public safety, Higgins was instrumental insignificantly reducing crime on campus, reducing UCR crimes to their lowest levels since Yale began reporting in 1985. He spearheaded numerous programs supporting excellence in on-campus safety, community policing, and deep collaborations with stakeholders, leaders, and members of both the university and the City of New Haven communities, while at the same time ensuring leading-edge focus on efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from state, national and global threats.
He has been an active member of several government and community groups, including the Connecticut Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities, the Connecticut Police Officers Standards and Training Council, the Boys and Girls Club of New Haven, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives for Connecticut. He was recently named among the "Most Influential People in Security" by Security magazine and named one of the "100 Most Influential Black People in Connecticut" by the Connecticut NAACP.
He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in law enforcement from the University of New Haven, and earned a Master of Arts degree in security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
The Office of the Governor will forward Higgins’s nomination to the Connecticut General Assembly for its advice and consent upon the start of the 2024 regular legislative session. During the time prior to his confirmation by the legislature, Higgins will serve as interim commissioner.
DESPP is comprised of the following six divisions: the Commission on Fire Prevention and Control; the Connecticut State Police; the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security; the Police Officers Standards and Training Council; the Division of Scientific Services; and the Division of Statewide Emergency Telecommunications.