The number of homicides in Connecticut went up 30% in 2020 – to 157 – compared to 120 the year before, according to figures provided by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The data paints a different picture of violent crime than the one addressed by Gov. Ned Lamont at a televised press briefing Monday where he portrayed the recent spate of shootings, including the weekend deaths of a three-year-old and a 16-year-old, as isolated violence within Hartford.
The shootings that claimed the two young lives during a two-hour period Saturday afternoon prompted Lamont and a city pastor to call for cooler heads, better information and greater love in the community.
“Is this the Hartford we want? Is this the Connecticut we want? Is this the world we want? Where our children are being killed?” said Rev. Marichal Monts, senior pastor of the Citadel of Love in Hartford. “It’s one thing when people make decisions, but a 3-year-old? C’mon. We’ve got to fix this, we’ve got to fix this fast.”
Lamont initially said he was under the impression that crime in the state was not escalating. “There’s not a big spike in violence necessarily around the state or around the country but it’s something we take very seriously,” he said. “I know what it means to a community.”
He later conceded he had not seen the figures provided by Dr. James Gill, who included the data in the testimony he will make to the Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
Thousands of deaths from COVID-19 since March of 2020, a 13% increase in the number of accidental overdose deaths to 1,374 in 2020, and the increase in homicides left Gill’s office with a nearly $500,000 budget deficiency for fiscal year 2021.
“Fiscally, this translates into more costs for the agency including transportation of remains, laboratory and supply needs, and overtime in order to keep up with the day to day volume of death investigations,” Gill said.
Gill did not indicate which cities saw the biggest increases in homicides in 2020. The cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury all had increases in homicides, according to Brian Foley, of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which manages the state police. State troopers are involved in various violent crime and gun crime task forces in Hartford, Foley said.
Lamont and his chief of staff, Paul Mounds, said they would be looking at federal stimulus funding to see if any of the money the state received could go toward violence prevention.
In the meantime, the state wasn’t working on a “legislative” response to Saturday’s killings or the issue of violence in general, Lamont said. Instead state and community officials are asking churches, local groups and Project Longevity, a federal violence prevention program, to reach out to Hartford residents in the hopes of reducing tensions, Lamont said.
The state did provide earlier pandemic relief funding from the federal government to Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury and Bridgeport to help with police overtime and violence prevention over the summer, Mounds said.
There were 25 homicides in Hartford in 2020, Monts said. The city has already seen eight homicides in the first four-and-a-half months of 2021, he said.
Police are stressed and tired, Monts said. “Every police officer I talked to says, ‘I took this job to help people,’” Monts said. “They are feeling like their hands are tied.”
“We cannot have our police stressed and traumatized while we are stressed and traumatized,” Monts said.
The number of homicides in Connecticut can vary by year, data from Gill’s office shows. In 2018, there were 98 homicides in the state, in 2017, there were 124, and in 2016, there were 87. But there have only been two years since 1995 when the number of homicides topped 150 – 2012 and 1998, according to Gill’s figures.
Monts, who also acts as the chaplain for the Hartford Police Department, admitted that he didn’t think he could stop the violence on his own. “We need to return to a kinder community, a civil community and not think the worst of one another,” Monts said.