Citing what it calls a demoralizing and dangerous lack of support from the state Capitol, the Connecticut State Police Union says it is “highly unlikely” it will endorse Gov. Ned Lamont in this fall’s election – reversing their backing of the Democrat during his 2018 campaign.
“We endorsed him and at the time we thought that he would be really good for our agency,” said Andy Matthews, a retired trooper and the 900-member union’s executive director. “Politicians tell you what you want to hear at the time they want your support. But to a trooper out in the field doing the job day to day, feeling like they’re supported in their role and their job is really important for them and their family. And we don’t feel like we get that from this administration.”
In fact, Matthews said, the union will likely decline to endorse any candidate for governor from any party.
He noted the legislature’s passage of a police accountability bill in 2020 that he says has “handcuffed” police, along with what he calls a pattern of anti-police sentiment at the Capitol that has bled into the public domain as the main reasons for the union’s stance.
“I think politics is very toxic these days and has contaminated how we can properly protect public safety,” he said, noting a sharp decline in traffic-violation enforcement that he said largely stems from officers’ fear of repercussions in the current political climate. “Morale is extremely low – I would say at an all-time low. The legislature and the current administration have made our job more dangerous and they have negatively impacted public safety and we can’t support that.”
Lamont announced in November that he will seek re-election to a second term.
Friday, he released a statement through his campaign office that said he is “committed to doing everything necessary to keep Connecticut families safe, and is proud to support the brave men and women who protect our communities.”
“Over the last three years, Gov. Lamont has overseen the training of hundreds of new police officers, directed millions of dollars in funding to local police departments, and provided critical new tools to combat juvenile crime and gun violence,” the statement said. “And we are proud that this year’s class of state police is the most diverse and has one of the highest percentages of women ever. Our police officers do extraordinary work keeping our cities and towns safe, particularly during this challenging pandemic. And we will continue to work with law enforcement to ensure Connecticut always remains one of the safest states in the nation.”
Matthews said the union’s ire also extends to Republicans, who he said often back police in public statements but also have routinely voted to oppose pay increases for troopers.
“They talk a lot about how they support law enforcement and they talk about how they love our troopers,” he said. “But when it came to vote for our contract they said ‘we can’t afford to do this.’”
Bob Stefanowski, a Republican who lost to Lamont in 2018 and is expected to challenge him again in November, said he is not surprised by the union’s position, especially in light of the police-accountability bill.
“Keeping people safe should be a priority of any governor,” Stefanowski said. “It will be up to any person running for office to prove that they care about our hard-working officers and are willing to give them the tools they need to keep residents safe.”
Themis Klarides, a former longtime Republican legislator who many expect to also seek the party’s nomination for governor, hit on a similar point.
“The police accountability bill stripped away qualified immunity, putting our law enforcement at risk, making it harder to hire and retain officers to fight crime, and keeping us less safe,” she said in a statement. “I was proud to fight that measure until the very end and stand up for law enforcement every year I was in the legislature.”
Like other laws enacted around the nation in the wake of the homicide of George Floyd while being subdued by police in Minneapolis, the police-accountability act placed limits on police tactics that restrain a suspect’s breathing, mandated updated use-of-force training and required police officers to undergo drug testing and periodic mental health evaluations to maintain their certification.
It also required police to employ body and dashboard cameras, and created an Office of the Inspector General to investigate cases involving the use of deadly force by officers.
Matthews said that while some aspects of the law provide necessary protections for citizens against abuse by police, the associated negative rhetoric from some politicians and members of the public is not only unfair, but makes officers less proactive.
He said the law has also created an atmosphere in which people interacting with police are much more inclined to be verbally and even physically abusive toward officers, noting recent incidents in which officers responding to seemingly-routine calls were spit on and shot at with a paint-ball gun.
“Every time you turn on the news it’s people saying we want justice and we want accountability and they’re attacking law enforcement for doing what they’re trained to do,” Matthews said. “Our troopers get in the car every day and say ‘How am I going to get through this shift without being killed or without getting arrested or having a complaint filed against me and losing my job?’ When you basically handcuff officers from performing their job it makes the public less safe. It really does.”