‘A plea for help: Police ask lawmakers for assistance in combating crime’ [Waterbury Rep-Am]

October 18, 2021

From the Waterbury Republican-American:


State lawmakers are not deaf to appeals from Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo and others that police need help fighting spiking crime from the legislature.

The political hearing of Democrats and Republicans remains 20/20, and legislators are attuned to the pleas and demands to do something about violent crime and juvenile crime, but the two parties are deadlocked.
Bipartisan talks involving a working group of three Democrats and three Republicans collapsed amid partisan recriminations about which side was responsible, and since then it has been just more stalemate and finger-pointing at the state Capitol.

House and Senate Republicans have each put foward packages of proposals, and GOP leaders complain the Democrats have yet to match the Republican plans.

“They’ve offered zilch to this conversation while Republicans have now issued two plans with specific proposals to help curb this emergency,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora.

“It’s time for Democrats to step up and do something for people of this state who are justifiably fed up with carjackings, vehicle thefts, and an overall culture of crime that seems to be growing in stature each and every day.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership and Gov. Ned Lamont are adamantly opposed to Republican proposals that they see as guises for rolling back criminal justice, juvenile justice, and policing reforms that Democrats advocated.

THE VIEW OF CRIME In Connecticut is far less stark from the Democratic side, and that largely accounts for difference in the sense of urgency between the two parties in Hartford.

“Connecticut remains one of the safest states in the country. Crime has decreased over the past several years because of our approach to be smart on crime – not reactive,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, the House chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Some constituents in the 14 towns that veteran Republican Craig A. Miner represents in the 30th Senatorial District are telling him that they are worried about crime and their personal safety.

“People in the 30th District are now aware that somebody might not just steal your car. You might actually get shot at. Ten years ago, you’d probably get your car stolen. Now, it is not just a car theft,” he said.

Miner referenced the fatal hit-and-run death of a jogger in New Britain who was struck running on a sidewalk in late June by a stolen car driven by a 17-year-old with 13 prior arrests over the three previous years.

“In all likelihood 10 years ago if somebody stole a car they didn’t run somebody over like happened two months ago,” he said. “Now, you can be an innocent jogger somewhere, and your life is taken.”

Miner continued, “So, I think it has gone up a level. People are concerned about their safety. I don’t think their lives are ruled by that, but I do think we should be trying to pursue some changes because absent pursuing some changes based on what we’ve heard statewide things are likely to get worse, not better.”

DEMOCRATS NOT ONLY ACKNOWLEDGE the heightened public concerns about crime, but also that the alarms that are being raised about crime are resonating with people across Connecticut.

“I think it is,” said Sen. Gary Holder, D-New Haven, the Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “I think every time I open a newspaper and there is another story about it, and largely framed in such a way, and I’m not suggesting people are all doing this purposefully, but framed in such a way that if I’m a person concerned about my safety I would be concerned about safety.”

He said Democrats have the facts and figures on their side, such crime statistics showing Connecticut had the fourth-lowest number of violent crimes of any state in 2020, or showing motor vehicle thefts are near 36-year lows. But he said periodic crimes of a shocking nature involving juveniles and adults receive more public attention and get longer play in the news media.

“It is the way it works, but I think my job is to not just be responsive to the fact that people are feeling something, but be responsive to the facts,” U.S. State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said.

He said he does not diminish people’s personal experiences with crime.
Despite the current impasse, Democrats and Republicans have joined to enact some of the most notable criminal justice legislation enacted in recent years, including bail reform, reduced penalties for drug possession, expanded opportunities for drug treatment and expedited parole and pardon reviews for nonviolent offenders.

One of the biggest splits between the two parties was a contentious police accountability bill that was adopted last year to respond to the police killings of George Floyd and other Black people nationally and complaints about police conduct and racial inequities in Connecticut.
No Republicans supported the sweeping package that among its many provisions limited the immunity of police officers to civil lawsuits in state courts for serious misconduct.

It also subjected police officers to discipline or criminal prosecution for failing to report another officer’s use of excessive force, created independent office to investigate use of deadly force and prosecute cases of unjustified use of force, and added excessive use of force or undermining public confidence in law enforcement as new grounds for decertifying police officers.

The House and Senate Republicans are now seeking to ease or reverse some of these accountability measure, but Democrats and the governor’s office are rejecting the GOP recommendations.