The Connecticut State Police Union is taking Gov. Ned Lamont to task for allegedly putting troopers in harm’s way to patrol Hartford during a spike in shootings when they haven’t been trained in some aspects of the new police accountability law.
“We write to you to express our extreme disappointment with your decision to put our troopers at more risk of injury or death and criminal and/or civil liability by forcing our troopers to work within the city of Hartford,” said Union Executive Director Andrew Matthews in a letter addressed to Lamont Thursday.
Matthews wrote in the two-page letter that since Public Act 20-01 passed in late July, violent crime in several cities including Hartford has increased. But police have not been given the training to deal with some aspects of the law including the amount of force that is “objectively reasonable,” Matthews said.
“This will not only cause our troopers to hesitate when forced to protect themselves or others, it has unnecessarily and adversely impacted public safety,” Matthews said.
Lamont instructed the state police to help the city of Hartford patrol streets and deal with violent crime on Oct. 16. Lamont’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s hardly the first time state troopers have been called in to help Hartford or other large cities deal with spates of violent crime. In 2019, state troopers worked with Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven police as part of a federal grant program. State troopers have also periodically joined Hartford police on patrol when shootings and homicides have escalated several times in the past two decades.
Matthews did not specify in the letter if the union feels that troopers don’t have enough of an understanding of the “objectively reasonable” standard to function in their daily jobs patrolling the state’s highways and acting in the capacity of resident state troopers in towns with no police department.
Advocates for the law and national leaders argue that the pandemic is driving crime by causing rampant unemployment and family stressors. Violent crimes including shootings have increased during the pandemic, according to a recent New York Times article.
“Because the stresses of the pandemic are everywhere, you are seeing this everywhere,” said Jeff Asher, a New Orleans crime analyst who told the Times that homicides are increasing throughout the country as the public health crisis continues.
The union already sued Lamont over the law and lost part of the lawsuit.
The law requires officers to receive more training in de-escalation, more use of body cameras and periodic psychological testing for police. Police unions throughout the state have bucked the law, saying it will cause officers to hesitate on the job.
The law also creates a separate Office of the Inspector General to independently investigate in-custody deaths and the use of deadly force by police. It changed the standard by which the use of deadly force is considered to be justified to “objectively reasonable.”
Several police unions and Republican legislators have come out against the law, saying it causes officers to second-guess their choices because they fear repercussions for doing their job. Police unions across Connecticut have been endorsing Republican candidates at the state and Congressional level who opposed the legislation. Members of the union voted “no confidence” in Lamont and in state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella in late August over their support for the law.
A few weeks ago, State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called for Lamont to suspend the law until the next legislative session, saying it was responsible for escalating crime in the state’s major cities.
But Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee who crafted the legislation disagreed with Fasano’s assessment of the increase in crime.
“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.”
Matthews demanded that Lamont respond to the claims laid out in the letter or he threatened the union would stage a press conference.
“Your failure to understand the dangers of our profession, your creation of policy and statute that places our troopers more at risk of serious injury or even death will not be tolerated,” Matthews wrote.