Bob Stefanowski, Republican gubernatorial candidate, at a public safety press conference on Sept. 29, 2022 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

HARTFORD, CT — Bob Stefanowski shrugged off recently released statistics showing a decline in Connecticut crime rates and announced a plan Thursday to combat a problem he said many residents felt was out-of-control. 

Stefanowski, a Madison Republican running a second race against incumbent Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont, held a morning press conference outside the state Capitol building to unveil a plan to make Connecticut safer, largely by repealing elements of a police accountability law passed by the state’s majority Democrats in 2020.

Beside Stefanowski and his running mate, Rep. Laura Devlin of Fairfield, several police officers from Fairfield and Hartford stood on the Capitol lawn, within view of the television cameras. 

“Laura and I probably see 50 to 200 people, maybe even more, a day. We’ve been asking and not one person — not one person — has told us they feel safer than they did four years ago,” Stefanowski said. “We have to do something about it.”

The plan would roll back restrictions on the circumstances in which police could use qualified immunity as a defense in a lawsuit and reevaluate the state’s update police use of force standards. The changes were meant to support police and bolster their struggling recruitment efforts, the candidate said. 

But the plan comes just days after Lamont and his public safety commissioner released an annual report on the state’s crime statistics, which found overall crime was down by nearly 3% in 2021 and violent crime down by more than 9%. 

Stefanowski called “disingenuous” the administration’s release of the report before corresponding FBI statistics were available. He said his opponent had chosen to focus on the positive elements of the data rather than more concerning statistics like a 23% rise rape incidents over an unusually low number in 2020. 

Hartford Police Officer Anthony Rinaldi, and Fairfield Officers Ray Quiles and Kevin Wells Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“He can try to spin it but crime is out of control, people feel less safe and he’s lost the support of law enforcement,” Stefanowski said. “So we’re going to roll out a plan today called Connecticut SAFE… It starts with supporting law enforcement.”

Stefanowksi and Devlin said there were elements of recent changes to police policy which they supported. For instance, use of police body cameras and the creation of a state Inspector General to investigate police use of force incidents. 

Lamont’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this story. However, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the data did not support Stefanowski’s claims. 

“Clearly the Republicans have spent two and a half years telling people, despite what the data will show them, that they’re going to experience crime everywhere they are and even if it hasn’t happened to them, it’s happening all around them,” Winfield said. “That matters. The data shows something different. We could say all we want that we don’t like the data, but we should respect the data and the fact that they don’t says something about them.”

However, Stefanowski argued that Lamont and state Democrats had alienated much of Connecticut’s law enforcement community and contributed to a difficulty recruiting and retaining police officers, which has been felt both here and across the country. 

Sen. Dan Champagne, a Vernon Republican and former police officer, told reporters he knew of police officers who were worried about being sued and attempting to shield their assets from possible litigation.

“The police feel this,” Champagne said. “They’re trying to put their assets in their wifes’ names. There’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes and I’ll be honest, we can’t find officers.” 

Hartford Police Officer Anthony Rinaldi, president of the city’s police union, said the recruitment difficulties had led to more unqualified candidates being hired and veterans leaving the force for private sector jobs. 

“It’s actually getting to the point where it’s scary,” Rinaldi said. “We’re swimming against the tide, is what we’re doing.”

Winfield said Champagne and others had warned of a series of lawsuits that had not materialized in the time since the police accountability law was passed. 

“They keep creating a world that doesn’t exist and it’s to scare people,” Winfield said. “They don’t have any other issues to campaign on, apparently. We had an election after we passed the police accountability bill. It didn’t play well then, it’s not playing the way that they hope it plays now.” 

Stefanowski said his press event was not an attempt to scare residents. 

“I don’t think we’re stoking fears,” he said. “In fact, if we weren’t highlighting this, we wouldn’t be doing our job. I can tell you, when we’re out there, people are afraid and I’m not trying to make them afraid. They’re coming to me afraid and saying ‘What are you going to do about it?”