HARTFORD, CT — Three days after funeral services for two slain Bristol police officers, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski promised again Monday to repeal elements of Connecticut’s 2020 police accountability law.
Surrounded by law enforcement officials, Stefanowski and his running mate Laura Devlin signed a glossy poster board, pledging to scale back elements of the law including its provisions limiting officers’ use of qualified immunity as a civil defense, as well as its more stringent use of force and consent search standards.
Monday’s late morning press conference, shielded from a steady downpour under the state Capitol’s northern portico, was not the first time the Madison Republican has called for repealing elements of the law which Connecticut Democrats passed largely in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
However, it was the first such event conducted since Friday’s joint funeral for Bristol police Lt. Dustin Demonte and Sgt. Alex Hamzy who were killed in an apparent ambush earlier this month.
Stefanowski has trailed in recent polling on his rematch with Ned Lamont, the first-term Democratic governor who signed the police accountability into law. The Republican tread lightly around the topic of the slain police officers during the event.
“Out of respect for the families I’m not going to mention — I’m not going to focus on it, but I’ll tell you: anybody sitting at that funeral for Officers Demonte and Hamzy on Friday and seeing them and their families walk in, if you tell me that keeping police officers safe is not your number one priority, you ought to move out of this country,” Stefanowski said about 16 minutes into the event. “We need to make it safer for officers and their families and we need to do it today.”
The Oct. 12 incident that felled Demonte and Hamzy and left another officer, Alec Iurato with a gunshot wound to the leg, had no apparent connection to the 2020 law. Despite his injuries, Iurato managed to shoot and kill the assailant, Nicholas Brutcher. Less than a week after the shooting, the office of the state inspector general, a position created by the police accountability law, issued a preliminary report finding Iurato’s actions justified.
In response to Stefanowski’s news event, state Democrats issued a press release accusing the Republican of exploiting the Bristol incident for political gain.
“Bob Stefanowski and Republicans are politicizing the murder of the two heroic Bristol Police Officers Lt. Dustin DeMonte and Sgt. Alex Hamzy as an investigation by state police is underway and just days after they were laid to rest,” Reps. Geraldo Reyes and Bobby Gibson of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus said.
In their press release, the Democrats also pointed to recently released statistics indicating the state’s violent and overall crime rates had declined from 2020 to 2021, while other categories like rape and manslaughter had increased.
As he has in the past, Stefanowski brushed aside those same statistics on Monday, saying they failed to capture a state where many residents reported feeling less safe.
Though he would not name an instance in which a police officer has been held personally liable as a result of the new law, Stefanowski and others also argued its changes to qualified immunity had damaged recruitment and retention efforts by departments and discouraged officers from doing their jobs.
“If you had personal liability and you could lose your house or you could lose your kids’ college savings, are you going to get involved in a high-speed chase? Of course not. We all know that’s why some of these stats are down,” Stefanowski said.
John Krupinsky, a Danbury police sergeant and president of the Connecticut State Fraternal Order of Police, appealed to voters to support Stefanowski.
“Please protect my officers that are out in the streets every day fighting this battle for you. Vote for Bob Stefanowski to repeal this bill and make Connecticut safe again,” Krupinsky said.
Sarah Locke, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Lamont had supported officers and helped keep Connecticut’s crime rates among the lowest in the nation.
“And now, we’re seeing the horrific deaths of two public servant police officers politicized to advance a political agenda,” Locke said. “This is disgraceful. Now is the time to come together, to mourn and support bipartisan measures to support and fund our police.”
Stefanowski said that his event was aimed at reducing crime and protecting police officers, something he argued Lamont had failed to do.
“This is a job that we have pride in. This is a job that we should be respecting and this administration has taken every ounce of respect away and Laura and I are going to give it back because they deserve it,” he said.