DANBURY – The gloves are off in Danbury’s mayoral race, as Republican Mayor Dean Esposito is accusing his Democratic challenger, Roberto Alves, of wanting to defund the police – an assertion Alves calls “comical” and “absurd.”
The two are facing off for the second time in as many years, with Esposito narrowly beating out Alves by a 51-49 percent margin in 2021.
The two candidates spoke to CT Examiner this week on the issues of crime and public safety.
The mayor said he’s pro-police and helped bring 46 new officers on the force during his time in office. Claims that Alves wants to defund the police is not a new one by Esposito, but it’s something the mayor said is evident by his opponent’s supporters.
“He has been endorsed by a party [Connecticut Working Families Party] that wants to defund the police and, as far as I am concerned, he wants to defund the police,” Esposito told CT Examiner.
Alves, a 40-year-old technical sales engineer and treasurer of the state Democratic Party, said not only are Esposito’s claims false, but they are silly.
“He says that the Working Families Party wants to defund the police, so therefore I want to defund the police,” Alves said. “Does that mean he supports an insurrection because he is a Republican [referring to former President Donald Trump]?”
The Connecticut Working Families Party, which leans left politically, has not publicly called for defunding the police, although some factions within the national party have in recent years.
Alves said several members of his family are police officers, including a brother-in-law on the local force.
“I support social justice and good policing, and those two things aren’t mutually exclusive,” he said.
Esposito, for his part, said he fought hard to get 46 new officers on the force and that officers on bicycles are slated to return this spring, after funding was cut a few years back. There will be about six officers on bicycles, patrolling primarily downtown, he said.
“My record speaks for itself,” the 63-year-old Esposito said. “The city of Danbury is one of the safest cities out there in the state, if not the country,”
Esposito pointed to a drop in overall crime this year that he attributes, in part, to his strong relationship with the city’s police department and Police Chief Patrick Ridenhour.
Statistics provided by the Danbury Police Department in eight categories, including homicide, assault, rape and motor vehicle theft, shows there were 643 incidents of crime in the city from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 of this year, compared to 718 incidents during the same time in 2022. Most notably, however, assaults more than doubled to 71 in the first eight months of this year, and motor vehicle thefts went from 48 for the first eight months of 2022 to 75 the first eight months of 2023.
Alves says Esposito is playing fast with the truth and maintains there were numerous retirements that the mayor’s office didn’t properly plan for.
“We’ve hired 46 officers in a rush over two years to fill vacancies,” Alves said.
Ridenhour told CT Examiner on Friday that some hires were to fill vacancies from retirements, but that many were “to increase our table of organization,” meaning to bring the department up to proper staffing levels.
Ridenhour said there are currently 157 officers, including 96 patrol officers, on the force. The department is budgeted for 166, and Ridenhour said he expects to reach that level either at the end of this year or early next year.
Both candidates said they favor hiring diverse officers, including women and minorities, to join the force.
Ridenhour, the department’s first African American police chief, said the department is more diverse today than anytime during his seven years as chief. According to Ridenhour, there are around 30 Latino officers, 10 African American officers, and 19 women on the Danbury police force.
Ridenhour said he believes assaults are up partly “because, as we come out of COVID, we get more issues with bars and nightclubs. Some of it is also because of domestic disturbances.”
Motor vehicle thefts, Ridenhour added, are usually crimes of opportunity.
“Someone can just walk up to a car, open the doors and get in and drive away,” he said. “Lock your cars and take your keys with you.”
On other issues related to crime and public safety, Esposito said juvenile crime “is running rampant right now, because it seems that there is an open door for the criminal and no punishment. You can’t just let people commit crimes and let them back out [soon after they are arrested]. The punishment should fit the crime, and it’s not happening now.”
Esposito said changes to how people charged with a crime are processed could be done at the legislative level. He said he speaks frequently to the city’s five-member delegation, and that crime and punishment often top the list of priorities.
“We have some really good state representatives,” Esposito said. “I have invited each to my office because, after everybody is elected, we should be able to work together.”
Alves said he plans to be “open and transparent” when it comes to public safety and that he supports providing more recreational and job opportunities for the city’s youth.
“I’m a big believer in athletics and after-school programs,” Alves said. He also pointed to the Police Cadet Program, formerly the Police Explorer Program, which Alves said “is an amazing program that teaches kids about law enforcement and tries to get them into the profession. I was a proud member of that program.”
Esposito told CT Examiner he’d also like to see more recreational opportunities for young people in the city through entities like Parks and Recreation, sporting events, and after-school activities.