(Alex Schmidt via Shutterstock) Credit: Alex Schmidt / Shutterstock

A bipartisan group of lawmakers plan to meet today at the state Capitol to discuss proposals to curb youth crime and car theft in Connecticut.

House Speaker Matt Ritter and House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora announced their plan to meet last week following an incident in which a runner in New Britain was killed after being struck by a stolen car which police said was driven by a 17-year-old with an extensive criminal history.

The death prompted a call for legislative action from House Republicans and plans for Wednesday’s meeting. 

“I’m hopeful that we will put forth some of our proposals that we had during the legislative session that were summarily rejected by the Democrats,” Candelora said Tuesday. “Specifically, I think there needs to be a conversation about giving police officers the tools they need to make communities safe and protect these juveniles from themselves.” 

Vehicle theft by minors have spiked since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. There were 738 stolen car arrests involving minors in 2019, according to the state judicial branch. The number grew by 23% to 910 in 2020. That increase, which criminal justice analysts say is not unique to Connecticut, comes after a two-decade decline.

Ritter said he and Candelora, as well as some members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, would review as much information as they could “before we rush to a decision on this.”

“The question is, after talking with law enforcement and prosecutors, is how do you balance this? What we don’t want to do is put every kid in detention who does anything wrong who’s a juvenile and at the same time we have to figure out how to address what clearly is a couple dozen individuals who have been arrested three or four or five times for this,” Ritter said.

It was unclear Tuesday if the meeting would result in any immediate legislative action. Ritter said that would depend on whether lawmakers on both sides of the aisle could find consensus. He said he would also be looking to find out why the minor involved in the New Britain crash had not already been detained. According to New Britain police, the 17-year-old had been arrested 13 times in less than four years. 

Asked about the issue after a bill signing event Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont said he believed the state could take steps to curb youth crime without necessarily passing new laws. The governor said that federal stimulus money would be used to help support law enforcement efforts and fund community programs for minors, “which would make a big difference for a lot of these kids.”

“I am worried about kids under the age of 18 who are breaking the law sometime more than once and finding the right response,” Lamont said. “Do I think it’s incarceration? No, for that young kid. But I think there ought to be consequences for your actions.”

In a phone interview last week, Ken Barone, project manager at Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, worried about the potential for a “political overreaction” to the rise in youth crime. In an email, Barone said he expected a natural correction in crime rates as the impact of the pandemic recedes. 

“I would expect both juvenile crime rates and other crime rates to decline as we return to normal (likely by mid to late fall). We must remember that 2019 saw some of the lowest crime rates in the history of our state,” Barone said. “The increase can be directly correlated to the pandemic. I believe it is possible to get back to 2019 levels, but like most things, it will take time.”