Police in at least four communities are investigating a string of armed robberies and carjackings that occurred in a less-than 24-hour span 10 days ago.
Several officers said at this point, it’s unclear if the perpetrators are teens. But there is no question that the robberies were committed in two stolen vehicles, one of which was dumped in New Britain after a couple was car-jacked at gunpoint in Middletown. Their vehicle was used in two gas station armed robberies minutes later in Waterbury, city police said.
The crimes occurred in the overnight hours from late Saturday to early Sunday in Southington, Plainville, Middletown and Waterbury. Police have made no arrests.
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, and other Republican legislators have been circulating around the state talking about their proposals to address a spike in car thefts that they say is connected to an increase in juveniles committing crimes.
Fishbein said that while audiences are receptive to their presentations — which include instructing people to call their legislators — Democrats have yet to budge on entertaining Republican proposals on juvenile matters.
“The Democrats will talk about how we are safer, but they aren’t calling for a special session,” Fishbein said.
There’s a good reason for that, said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, which must vet and approve any changes to the state’s juvenile justice system. “The first thing I have to know is which thing are we responding to?” Winfield said. “Everything gets mashed together and you can’t do anything with that. Car thefts are getting melded into people getting shot in their own driveway. So which thing exactly are we talking about? Juvenile car thefts? Or juveniles committing more serious crimes? If we’re going to create good policy, we need to know what we’re talking about.”
Bipartisan conversations on the topic ended this summer.
For weeks, Fishbein and other legislators including Sen. Paul Cicarella, R-East Haven, have been speaking in towns across the state to “educate” the public on crime issues while pressing their juvenile justice agenda.
During one presentation in North Haven a few weeks ago, a city police officer didn’t comment on their recommendations but instead told the crowd that the best way they could help the criminal justice system would be locking their cars and garage doors every night.
Waterbury Lt. Ryan Bessette said Friday his department is constantly asking residents to be vigilant in not leaving their keys in the car. Of the 19 car thefts reported in Waterbury over the last week, 11 had the keys in the vehicle and a good number were running when they were taken, he said.
Fishbein concedes that the number of violent crimes in Connecticut, with the exception of a recent spike in murders — has gone down in the past 10 years. But he’s concerned with the state’s spike in car thefts, which he said has increased 41% during the pandemic compared to a nationwide increase of 12%.
He also concedes that about 50 A and B felony crimes including murder, first-degree assault, first-degree kidnapping, home invasion, and robbery with a firearm that automatically send juveniles to adult court.
And while prosecutors have discretion in deciding whether a teen should be tried as an adult for some charges, Fishbein pointed out that juveniles can commit three car thefts before prosecutors can send their cases to adult court. Young people who are charged with car theft four times automatically go to adult court.
It’s Fishbein’s contention that car thefts lead to more violent crimes. In some cases they do. Last summer a jogger was killed in New Britain as a teen was careening down a city street in a stolen car. The teen was charged with first-degree assault, automatically sending his case to adult court.
As a result of that case, the Judicial Branch agreed to allow police to apply via email to see a juvenile’s record. Those records had been sealed before unless the individual had a criminal history based on acts committed in the same town.
Fishbein said it would be more helpful if police just had access to the entire juvenile record like they do for adults. He also wants teens who commit a second car theft while in a diversionary program for a first offense to be required to wear GPS monitoring.
The plan Republican lawmakers are pitching includes mandatory next-day arraignments for juveniles charged with certain offenses, whether or not they are being held in detention. They also want police to have some leeway in seeking detention orders from a judge, he said.
Right now police have six hours to obtain the order, Fishbein said. “If an officer applies for a detention order and is waiting on a judge, we want it to be flexible and not so draconian,” he said.
He tells groups the story of a 14-year-old who continuously defied authorities and programmatic attempts to help him before finally committing murder. Juveniles age 14 and under who are charged with serious crimes cannot have their cases transferred to adult court by state law, he said. They also can have their records erased, even if they are convicted of murder, Fishbein said.
But Winfield said the focus on 14-year-olds is misleading. “There are people who believe that we should be putting kids 14 and under in prison but that’s not going to make them a better person. What do you think is going to happen after they have been there 10 years? And most of these kids aren’t 14-year-olds.That’s a hypothetical conversation.”
Instead, Winfield said, people should be talking about why more juveniles ages 15 through 17 aren’t being prosecuted as adults, which can be done under current state law.
“When you have the ability to do so, and don’t do it, I struggle with that because I frankly don’t understand that,” Winfield said.
Winfield is clear that he’s not supporting sending more juveniles to adult court. But he is mystified as to why anyone would think Connecticut needs more laws to deal with juveniles. “Why would we make more laws when we already have the ability today?” he asked.