Two Republican legislative leaders are calling for Gov. Ned Lamont to use his emergency executive powers during the coronavirus pandemic to suspend the police accountability law, citing concerns about escalating crime in the cities.
State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, leader of the Senate Republican caucus, and state Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, deputy minority leader in the House, contend that the law designed to hold police more accountable is causing officers to hold back on policing out of concern for their jobs, which in turn, is driving crime up.
The two want Lamont to suspend the law, portions of which went into effect Oct. 1, until February when the legislature will be in session to address key concerns police have with the law.
“There is a direct correlation between an increase in violence and criminal activity in our state and the new police bill passed this summer,” Fasano said. “The new law ties the hands of officers, makes proactive policing more difficult, and has already begun to hurt recruitment and retention of good officers. The result is an uptick in crime across our state that we cannot ignore. We need to revisit this legislation to consider how all policies, no matter how well intentioned, will impact an officer’s ability to safely do their job and protect all people.”
Lamont’s office declined to comment Sunday. Fasano is asking Lamont to suspend the law under his executive powers granted to deal with the pandemic. Fasano and other Republicans had lobbied last month for Lamont’s emergency powers granted during the pandemic to lapse without being renewed. Under the emergency powers Lamont can suspend laws or issue orders to address the public health crisis.
“The powers allow him to suspend any statute at any time,” said Fasano who is not running for re-election in November “He’s done it several times.”
Sen. Gary Winfield, who crafted the legislation as co-chair of the Judiciary Committee in the wake of the death of George Floyd, roundly disagreed with his legislative colleagues.
“The bill didn’t cause people to say, ‘Okay, now I can commit crime,’” Winfield said. “People have less jobs, people have less opportunities. Tell me specifically why police can’t do their job? What are they (police) unsure about? Are they not sure they can use excessive force? The bill doesn’t say that if you are committing violent crimes you may not be shot by police. Are people reading the legislation and saying, these are the crimes I can commit? So what you’re telling me is that crooks know all about what the law says but police can’t figure it out. That’s nonsense.”
Advocates who fought hard to get the bill passed, including David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, say Fasano’s suggestion is a stall tactic to limit police accountability.
“The response we’re seeing from Len Fasano and other lawmakers is to try to politicize urban violence to slow or stop police accountability and that’s awful,” McGuire said.
The increase in crime has nothing to do with the law, but rather is a result of overpoliced communities that are now struggling through the pandemic, McGuire said.
“We know people are reeling from the pandemic and they need help, not more policing,” McGuire said. “The whole situation where lawmakers are trying to use an uptick in gun violence is disgusting. We should be investing in communities to help them, not control them.”
Police throughout the state have bitterly contested the law which calls for more training in de-escalation tactics, more use of body cameras and less use of deadly force tactics to deal with suspects including those who may have mental health issues.
The law also seeks more police transparency and creates an independent office to investigate deadly use of police force incidents and in-custody deaths.
Hartford Police Union President Anthony Rinaldi issued a statement last week contending that a rash of Hartford shootings, including seven that occurred the weekend of Oct. 10 and 11, were the result of officers “taking a step back and not proactively patrolling” due to the “uncertainty and vagueness” of the law.
The issue also prompted police unions across the state to endorse Republican candidates who almost unanimously voted against the legislation.
Fasano and Caldelora sent Lamont a letter Friday making the request after the governor ordered the state police to work with Hartford police to quell city violence. State police have conducted similar operations over the past several years.
The violence is connected to “decades of accumulated trauma and fear, mental health crises, poverty, addiction” and lack of opportunity, said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin in a string of tweets Saturday.
Bronin said it’s more likely that the increase in crime is driven by the pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted minority communities, job losses and suspensions and delays of court cases due to the public health crisis.
“This is not about the police accountability bill or officers stepping back,” Bronin said. “Arrests on violent crime are steady or up.”
Rather than calling in the state police, McGuire said the state should be investing in communities that have been harmed by policing and that are struggling to get through the pandemic.
“More police are not the answer,” McGuire said. “We know that there are things that work such as violence intervention groups, but they need funding. Instead of doing that, they are trying to go back to a playbook that hasn’t worked in 50 years.”