STAMFORD – Retirements are at record highs; recruitment is falling to new lows; retaining qualified officers is difficult.
Respect for law enforcement is declining; recent reforms were enacted without police perspective; violent crime is on the rise as morale among the rank-and-file slumps.
Those are among the reasons the Stamford police union is endorsing Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski over incumbent Democrat Ned Lamont in this year’s race for governor.
“Accountability cannot just be reserved for law enforcement,” reads the announcement from Stamford Police Association President David O’Meara. “Legislators routinely evade responsibility for their actions.”
It’s a tough letter that takes aim at Connecticut’s sweeping, controversial police accountability law, passed in 2020 and revised last year.
The law sets limits for use of deadly force; restricts police searches; adjusts “qualified immunity,” which protects police from lawsuits for actions on the job; requires officers to intervene when they witness fellow officers using excessive force; and more.
It was passed amid nationwide protests over police killings of Black people.
O’Meara said Tuesday the police accountability law is a significant reason the 255-member union chose Stefanowski over Lamont, now in his first term as governor.
“We feel some sections of the law handcuff police. Proactive policing is taking a backseat,” O’Meara said. “We are hoping Bob Stefanowski will get in and fix the flaws.”
There are other reasons, he said.
“Many departments are understaffed; policing is not as enticing as it used to be,” O’Meara said. “It’s a tough environment to work in. We’re still in a pandemic. Officers are fearful of being sued. They don’t want to come to work every day and be yelled at on the street.”
It’s time to change the leadership in Hartford, O’Meara wrote in the endorsement letter.
Stefanowski “is the candidate who will return Connecticut to normalcy, being the steady hand that will right the ship after going off course for the past two years,” O’Meara wrote. “In a time when officers feel like state officials are working against us, Bob Stefanowski believes in upholding the law, and wants to work with us, not against us, as we strive to keep communities … safe.”
Liz Kurantowicz of the Stefanowski campaign said the Republican candidate is proud to be endorsed by police in Connecticut’s second-largest city.
“We have a robust public safety platform, and we expect this to be the first of many endorsements from police,” Kurantowicz said. “We are looking to build a broad coalition that represents as many aspects of Connecticut as possible.”
On his campaign website Stefanowski advocates for early-intervention programs that target juvenile offenders and programs that help offenders with drug and alcohol addictions. At the same time, violent, repeat juvenile offenders “need to know there are consequences for their actions,” the website states.
The 900-member Connecticut State Police Union, which backed Lamont in 2018, so far is unconvinced about his re-election. Last month the executive director said troopers likely will not endorse any candidate for governor this year.
Andy Matthews said trooper morale is “at an all-time low” and traffic enforcement has declined significantly because, in this political climate, officers fear repercussions if stops are deemed improper.
The Democratic Lamont administration has “made our job more dangerous,” Matthews said. He also criticized Republicans, saying they back police in statements but then vote to block pay raises for troopers.
A spokesman for Lamont’s campaign said the governor “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.”
For three years, the spokesman said, “Governor 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. 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.”
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.”
Lamont, 68, is a Greenwich businessman who defeated Stefanowski in the 2018 governor’s race, 49 percent to 46 percent. He won by about 44,400 of the 1.4 million votes cast in that race. Lamont self-funded $15 million of his $15.8 million campaign.
Stefanowski, 59, is a businessman from Madison. He won the 2018 Republican nomination by petitioning his way onto the primary ballot, which had never been done in Connecticut politics. Stefanowski self-funded $2.3 million of his primary expenses and another $1 million in the general election.