Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s senior criminal justice adviser reported positive statistics to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Friday at an annual briefing on Connecticut crime trends.
“It seems like it’s all very good news, all of the trends we’ve been monitoring are heading in the right direction,” Michael P. Lawlor told lawmakers.
Among the report’s highlights were a five-year, 11.2 percent drop in crimes reported to police, a reduction of the state’s prison population by 8.1 percent since 2010, and a 23.7 percent decline in arrests since 2009.
“That’s a very, very significant drop in the number of arrests for all crimes statewide — not just indexed crimes [crimes involving victims] but everything: possession of drugs, breach of peace, everything,” he said.
The Friday report comes on the heels of a year in which the number of inmates in Connecticut prisons actually expanded for the first time since the 2007 Cheshire home invasion murders. Lawlor has attributed much of that expansion to the recent implementation of offender risk assessment policies enacted as a result of the Cheshire case.
However, during the most recent monthly report of prison statistics, the inmate population declined more sharply than officials had anticipated in their earlier forecasts. As a result, the prisoner count on March 1 was roughly equivalent to where it had been a year prior.
The March report also found an increased utilization of a special parole program among inmates in halfway houses. The number of special parolees in that setting has increased about 40 percent from last year.
Lawlor said much of the drop in crime rates corresponds to a national trend that has seen crime decline around the country. He said increased use of discretion and community policing by law enforcement also has led to fewer arrests.
But Lawlor said some Connecticut policies have helped reduce the number of people in the state’s criminal justice system. For instance, he estimated that the 2011 law that made possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketable offense has resulted in around 6,000 fewer arrests every year.
“Those people would have been arrested four years ago. They’re not being arrested now. They’re getting a ticket,” he said.
Lawmakers on the committee seemed generally pleased with the trends Lawlor described. Sen. Eric Coleman, the panel co-chairman, said he found the numbers encouraging but asked Lawlor whether members of the public believed crime has been dropping.
“Is there any way to gauge the perception of the public? Whether there’s a greater sense of security and public safety?” he said.
Lawlor, who taught criminal justice at the University of New Haven, said his students were often unsure whether crime rates had increased or dropped in the last 20 years.
“My sense is people think the opposite is true,” he said. “. . . Not only is it down, but it’s way down compared to 20 years ago. So I don’t know, but sometimes I think you need to say the same thing a thousand times before the first person hears it.”