HARTFORD — Senate Republicans on Wednesday introduced a plan they say will address an increase in crime by making changes to criminal justice law, expanding access to vocational training programs, modifying housing policies and rolling back parts of the 2020 police accountability legislation.
In a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said the Republicans had come up with their proposals after talking with police, community leaders and people who work with juveniles in their districts.
The Republicans are requesting a special session to present the plan to the legislature.
Some of their proposals, such as allowing police officers to detain an arrested juvenile longer than the current six-hour limit and making records available to judges after-hours, had been discussed in talks with the Democratic leadership earlier this year. The talks broke down in early August.
Monitoring juvenile offenders using GPS devices, requiring juveniles to be seen in court within 24 hours of an arrest, making it easier to transfer juveniles to adult court, and mandating fingerprinting for juveniles arrested for certain crimes have also been previously considered.
The plan would also require a mental health evaluation and court supported services to be offered at the juvenile’s initial hearing, rather than forcing them to wait for the duration of a trial, which can last several months.
“What we learned was that, quite often, these juvenile offenders, they’re released within six hours by law. They won’t be before a judge for two weeks and quite often they have a public defender and they will ask for a two week continuance. That means that young person’s out for about a month before anybody in authority addresses the underlying crime and quite often other crimes take place in that period of time,” said State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield.
The Republicans also propose evaluating the Judicial Branch’s current auto theft diversionary program and another program that allows juveniles to reduce prison time if they participate in certain prison programs, to see if the programs do, in fact, reduce the likelihood that the juvenile will commit crimes after being released.
“Maybe what we’re doing — and have always been doing — isn’t working,” said State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford. “And … what we need to do is re-deploy the resources to make sure that the individuals that get into the system have a true opportunity for corrective behavior.”
The plan would create a review board made up of local representatives, public defenders and members of the Department of Youth Services and the Youth Service Bureaus that would award state funding to the non-state run programs that have been most successful in addressing youth trauma and truancy and providing mentorship to young people.
“Responsive to the facts”
Data from the FBI Crime Data Explorer shows that the number of motor vehicle crimes increased from 168 per 100,000 people in 2019 — the lowest it has been in ten years — to 236.8 per 100,000 people in 2020, the highest it has been since 2008. The nationwide motor vehicle crime rate also increased between 2019 and 2020, although not as sharply as in Connecticut.
Homicides in the state increased nearly 25 percent last year in comparison to 2019, following a national trend. At the same time, violent crimes in Connecticut continue to decline, having reached their lowest point in over 25 years.
Democrats have said that the level of violent crimes in the state — the fourth lowest in all 50 states — shows that Connecticut is one of the safest states in the nation.
State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said in a press conference that he didn’t see the need to go into a special session to address crime. He also said he viewed the Republican proposal as “a non-starter.”
Winfield said that there were some things in the proposal that he agreed with, such as getting services to juveniles more quickly after an arrest and increased funding to programs for juvenile offenders. But he said that he disagreed with other provisions in the proposal, such as proposed changes to the police accountability law and the modifications to current statute that would make it easier to transfer juveniles to adult court.
“I think my job is to not just be responsive to the fact that people are feeling something, but be responsive to the facts. And when I look at the facts, I don’t see a need to enact the proposal before us,” said Winfield.
Winfield also said he believed that the policies put in place by the Democrats are already addressing the problem of crime and generating a steady dialogue on the issue.
“I think crime is a serious issue and we should be very much about the business of figuring out ‘how do we reduce crime,’” he said. “If you look over the last number of years … I think that’s what our policies have been doing. We have not only just enacted policy and walked away, but we have things like the JJPOC and others where we are constantly in conversation about this to make sure we’re getting it right.”
Workforce programs, housing and police accountability
The Republican’s plan goes beyond modifications to the criminal justice system to include statewide education programs and housing policy, as well as supporting recruitment of young people to become state and local police officers. The cost of all these initiatives is still unknown, and Kelly said he does not know if the state currently has the resources to support the proposal.
“What we need to do is make safety a priority. Clearly it’s not right now and that needs to happen. And if that requires more [resources], then we’ve got to do that,” he said.
The plan proposes a program that would encourage school districts, particularly those in urban areas, to partner with local businesses so that students can apprentice in an industry that is prevalent within the local business community.
Kissel said that young people who had acquired certain skills would easily be able to find a job in the current market.
“You can’t go almost anywhere in Connecticut without seeing a “Help Wanted” sign,” said Kissel. “It’s not like we’re living in an environment where young people can’t get into the marketplace.”
The plan would give students applying to trade schools the ability to receive financial aid, and would open up an already existing program that offers tax credits to businesses who hire graduates of construction and manufacturing programs to include other professions, such as barbers, sewer storm and water line installers, and lawn sprinkler maintainers and auto glass technicians.
Republicans also advocated for changing certain housing policies, saying that this would help keep families together.
“A lot of past policies, with the best of intentions, have undermined the nuclear family,” said Kissel. “Quite often in these houses, there’s no really good male role model.”
The recommendations include requiring limited liability corporations to clearly reveal the identity of their ownership to renters, penalizing municipalities that have low-quality public housing and ending state enforcement of a federal law that allows federal housing voucher recipients to be evicted if they are found to be living with “unauthorized residents,” which can include family members not listed on the lease.
The Republicans would also make changes that would undo some of the provisions in the police accountability legislation passed in July of 2020. These include allowing officers to receive qualified immunity in most cases, allowing for certain motor vehicle searches upon consent and reducing liability for officers who do not intervene in another officer’s use of force.