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Chris Powell

Pardon Restores Cop to Job; Teacher Pension Inequity

For several years now the “woke” Democratic majority in the General Assembly has been striving to erase many criminal convictions, either by statute or by facilitating pardons. This has been done on the mistaken premise that criminal records are the main impediments to former offenders as they seek to regain employment and housing.

But the main impediments to former offenders are their lack of education and job skills — more so now than ever as tens of thousands of jobs in Connecticut are going begging.

Simultaneously the “woke” Democratic majority has been striving to increase accountability in police work, enacting new standards for police officers and departments.

Last week investigative reporting by the Connecticut Post’s Bill Cummings disclosed that the two objectives have proven contradictory in a most ironic way.

In 2013, according to the Post, a Bridgeport police officer was charged with assaulting his former girlfriend’s new boyfriend and shoving her during the incident. The Bridgeport department stripped the officer of his police powers but kept him on the force doing administrative work. Two years later the officer was convicted in a plea bargain that reduced the charges to threatening and breach of peace.

Whereupon the Bridgeport police department managed to delay the officer’s mandatory state certification, allowing him to remain employed long enough so he could obtain a pardon from the state Board of Pardons and Paroles in October 2020, nullifying his convictions. Then, last May, the state Police Officers Standards and Training Council recertified him as an officer, allowing him to return to his old beat — demolishing accountability.

A member of the police standards council, former state Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, who now teaches criminal justice at the University of New Haven, told the Post: “Everyone felt extremely uncomfortable doing this,” but the pardon removed the council’s discretion.

“This is the kind of thing that makes people scratch their heads and wonder what the standards really are for police officers,” Lawlor said. “Ordinary citizens will look at this and say, ‘I don’t believe it.’”

Actually, ordinary citizens who have lived in Connecticut for a while will believe it readily. They also may understand that when government destroys accountability for some people, other people may take advantage too and eventually there may be no accountability for anyone, just lots of politically correct fog descending to keep the public ignorant about crime.

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Public school teacher pensions in Connecticut are based largely on salary and longevity. Salaries differ among municipal school systems, and state government, not municipal government, pays all the pension expense. As a result state government puts more into the pension system for highly paid teachers, who tend to work in more prosperous towns that can afford to pay teachers more than poorer towns can.

So the teacher pension system subsidizes wealthy towns more than poor towns, which is unfair. A study group is agitating about it again.

Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed to start charging municipalities for a big share of the state’s teacher pension expense. Governor Lamont has proposed charging a much smaller amount. These charges would reduce state government’s cost but not make the system any fairer even as it caused municipalities to raise their property taxes. The General Assembly hasn’t gone along.

Another solution is possible. Starting with new hires, state law could standardize teacher pensions, awarding the same benefits to all teachers everywhere, adjusted for longevity, regardless of salary and municipality of employment. The new pension calculation rate might be based on the state’s average teacher salary.

This would increase pension benefits for teachers in poor municipalities and reduce them for teachers in wealthy municipalities. Voila — perfect equality and fairness.

But fairness doesn’t count much in Connecticut when any government employees may be inconvenienced. Besides, unfairness in the teacher pension system hardly matters anyway, since no adjustment of education financing systems in the state has ever had any bearing on student learning.

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Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

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