HARTFORD, CT — Senate Republicans painted a grim picture of crime and violence in Connecticut during a midday press conference Wednesday and called for legislative action on a set of proposals including reversing elements of last year’s police accountability law.
The 16-page plan unveiled by the Senate’s minority caucus during an event outside the state Capitol building included changes to how state courts handle juvenile offenders, proposals for job training and workforce development, as well as ideas to scale back the police reform bill passed by Democrats last year.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly told reporters the plan warranted a special legislative session for immediate action.
“This is the true emergency that I think is facing Connecticut. This has innocent lives — individuals who are dying in our streets. We need to deal with this,” he said.
Kelly pointed to statistics indicating spikes in murders and shootings in Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury. In many ways, the event mirrored a similar press conference held by House Republicans back in July.
As they did over the summer, Democrats responded saying Connecticut was weathering the same surge in crime as the rest of the country; the violence a symptom of a global pandemic rather than an individual state’s criminal justice policies. Recent FBI statistics found Connecticut’s 2020 violent crime rates declined while much of the country increased and remained at roughly half the national average.
During an afternoon Zoom call with reporters, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said that data needed to be the basis for the state’s criminal justice policies.
“We should be responsive to what is actually happening here. Is that comfortable? I don’t know. For some people it’s not. Is that easy for people in politics? Probably not because people feel things. They want you to move, your election depends upon it but more important than my election is what is actually happening,” he said.
Winfield said he considered the Republican plan to be both a policy document and a political proposal.
Kelly disagreed, saying if the caucus had been simply interested in scoring political points it would have held press conferences over the summer. Instead, he said they sought input from police, community leaders and constituents. He said he hoped some Democrats would take to the proposals.
“These are the ideas and responses that we received,” Kelly said. “So what we see every day when we wake up and open the newspaper is yet another crime, another victim, another bold and brazen crime occuring and we can’t let that stand.”
The Republicans called on the legislature to revoke parts of the police accountability law passed last year in response to George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a former Minneapolis police officer. Among the provisions they wanted scaled back was a policy designed to limit the use of qualified immunity as a defense in lawsuits against officers acting outside the scope of their duties.
Kelly told reporters the law went too far and left officers apprehensive about responding in some situations.
“What you want are police officers who are proactive in their approach to law enforcement and you want somebody that’s not worried about losing everything they’ve worked for and ending up with a lawsuit because they responded to somebody’s cry for help,” he said.
Winfield dismissed the notion that the state’s current crime rates were related to the police accountability policy.
“Both in Connecticut and nationally it has been suggested that these reforms of policing is what has caused an increase in crime. If you look at the conversation in Connecticut, we were talking about the reforms causing an increase in crime before the reforms went into effect,” Winfield said.
Proposals backed by the Republican senators also included giving police options to hold minors for longer than a current cap of six hours as well as changes to how accused minors are handled by state courts. The plan would require next-day court appearances for juvenile offenders as well as make it easier to transfer minors accused of certain crimes to adult court.
Other ideas included workforce development programs and changes to Connecticut’s enforcement of Section 8 housing policies, which the Republican lawmakers said currently disincentives two-parent households.