We all have to make tough choices sometimes. As the Police Chief for Hartford for the last 5 years, I’ve certainly made my fair share.
The legislature will soon have a choice before it: whether or not they keep our death penalty or repeal it, leaving in place life imprisonment without the possibly of release. If this were my decision, I would not consider it difficult at all. Essentially, it’s a choice between having more officers on the streets and resources to support those officers, or paying for the death penalty. I’d choose more officers every single time. This is because you can’t measure prevention and I firmly believe that the police presence makes a positive difference.
In Connecticut we’ve been forced to lay off state troopers and police officers in departments around the state. Like so many others, law enforcement in Connecticut we have been forced to tighten our belts and expected to maintain the same level of police services, with considerably less. This is unfortunate in any situation, but it is just absurd that we would pull officers from the streets and at the same time spend millions of dollars to have a death penalty system that has not been proven to prevent crime.
Connecticut’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has estimated that we spend $4 million above and beyond the cost of life without the possibility of release to keep the death penalty on the books. That’s $4 million extra every single year, all this for a punishment that has only been handed out to 10 people in the last 40 years, and carried out only once. Believe me I can do a lot to prevent crime with $4 million.
I am not alone in thinking that the death penalty is a poor use of our limited resources. In 2005 and 2009 police chiefs across the country were asked to rank the death penalty as a tool for deterring violent crime. Both times, the vast majority of Chiefs listed the death penalty as the lowest priority. We’d all choose time-tested crime prevention methods like additional officers on the street, or effectively implemented community policing programs. We know that there are programs that reduce crime and protect our communities, and these outcomes should always be our top goal.
There are other reasons why I can’t support sacrificing so many resources to maintain the death penalty. The recent execution of Troy Davis – a Georgia man executed despite serious questions about his involvement in the killing – reminds us what a tragedy it would be to accidentally execute an innocent person. I work with some of the best law enforcement officials in the world, but none of us are perfect 100 percent of the time. Since we can’t guarantee perfection, it is too great a risk to undertake a punishment as severe and irreversible as the death penalty.
I’m also troubled by the death penalty because of my work with homicide survivors. As first responders, police officers work closely with victims’ families from the time of a murder, often throughout the legal process. I have seen how that process is painfully extended when the death penalty is involved. A case that could have had a quick resolution with a life sentence can drag on for years in trials waiting for a death sentence and then additional decades waiting for the execution to come. The death penalty in Connecticut is a false promise for a resolution that never seems to come. We should always be about service, relationships and safety, not death. The victims’ families deserve better.
Let’s get rid of the death penalty in Connecticut. We’ll free up millions of dollars that we should then invest in crime prevention, guarantee we won’t execute an innocent person, and will no longer torture victims’ survivors. It’s an easy choice.
Daryl K. Roberts is the chief of police in Hartford. He’s retiring on Dec. 31 after 30 years with the department.