Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Bob Stefanowski accepted an endorsement from the Hartford Police Union Monday during press conference where he promised to continue citing the recent murders of two Bristol police officers as more reason to repeal elements of Connecticut’s police accountability law. 

Stefanowski, a Madison Republican hoping to defeat incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont in a rematch of their 2018 bout, entered the last full week of his campaign much like the week before: pledging support for law enforcement officials in a state where he often claims crime is “out of control” and police are hamstrung by new policies adopted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officers in 2020. 

Although the most recent crime statistics showed increases the rates of rape and manslaughter, the statistics generally do not support Stefanowski’s claims on crime. Violent and overall crime rates have declined over the past year and Connecticut’s crime rates remain well below the national average.

But it’s no stretch to say that many Connecticut police officers oppose the 2020 law and Stefanowski’s promise to repeal at least three parts of the wide-ranging bill have helped net him a string of endorsements from police unions and associations. 

He ticked off a list of police endorsements at the outset of Monday’s press conference held at the Hartford Police Union’s offices on Sargeant Street. They ranged from the state’s biggest cities like Bridgeport and Stamford to suburbs like Enfield. 

“This is not easy for law enforcement to do, particularly some of the officers from Democratic cities,” Stefanowski said of the endorsements. “Laura [Devlin] and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate that support and how much it matters both to us and I think it matters to people across Connecticut and I think it’s going to matter to voters as well.” 

Stefanowski, who has consistently trailed Lamont in public polling, is not proposing to repeal the entire police accountability law. Instead, he targets three elements for reversal: a provision that limits officers’ use of qualified immunity as a civil defense in a lawsuit, a section that restricts when officers can search a person without a warrant, as well as stricter use of force standards. 

“It’s to the point in Connecticut where officers almost have to wait for the criminal to shoot before they can do so themselves,” he said Monday.

There are elements of the law Stefanowski would leave in place. He often states his support for its body camera requirements, which he says helps to protect police, and on Monday said the state inspector general position, created by the bill to review police shootings “makes sense to me.” 

He’s less clear on other provisions of the law like an obligation for a police officer to intervene in or report misconduct by another officer. Asked about the policy Monday, Stefanowski said he would spend more time with police officers before forming an opinion. 

The responsibilities of other officers have factored into the ongoing criminal proceedings related to the Floyd case. Two former Minneapolis police officers had been expected to stand trial Monday on charges related to their failure to intervene in the conduct of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of murdering Floyd. Both took steps last week to avoid a trial, according to the Associated Press

Asked to reflect on the Floyd case Monday, Stefanowski called the incident “horrible” and said the officer involved was rightly prosecuted. But he also said the incident happened somewhere else and did not necessitate broad changes to laws in Connecticut. He blamed the changes to state laws here on the political Left, which “stood up and demanded action.”

“Probably the most political bill I’ve ever seen,” Stefanowski said.

“Quite honestly I think before this event we were already holding our officers accountable and we didn’t need the bill to hold Connecticut officers accountable and this was largely — it’s the elephant in the room — this was politically driven by some horrible events — admittedly horrible events elsewhere in the country,” he said.

However, Stefanowski signaled he would continue to cite another, closer to home, incident in the final days of the campaign: the murders of two Bristol police officers, Lt. Dustin Demonte and Sgt. Alex Hamzy, earlier this month. 

Stefanowski suggested Lamont should change his position on the police law based on the incident and promised to bring the issue up during a debate between the two candidates, which is scheduled for Tuesday. 

“The question is, given what happened in Bristol, and you can argue whether it’s directly related to police accountability or not — we’ve had that debate — given what happened in Bristol and elsewhere in Connecticut, does he think this bill is still appropriate?” Stefanowski said.  

“These voters need to know where he stands,” he said. “These officers need to know where he stands, the families of Officer Hamzy and Officer Demonte deserve to know where he stands and the people of Connecticut need to know where he stands.”

The governor’s campaign spokesman, Jake Lewis, responded with a statement arguing that Lamont had supported policies to keep police safe while Stefanowski had not to committed to supporting bans on the type of rifle used in the Bristol murders.

“[Lamont’s] historic investments have maintained the momentum behind falling crime rates and given our officers the resources they need to keep all of us safe. Common sense measures like police body cams have shown Connecticut is home to some of the best, brightest, and bravest officers in the nation,” Lewis said. “Bob Stefanowski’s attempts to politicize the tragedy in Bristol is as offensive as it is ineffective.”