Conn. State Police union calls to suspend parts of police accountability bill

Union officials blame the bill for increasing violence in several Connecticut cities this year

By Zach Murdock
Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — The Connecticut State Police Union joined the chorus of law enforcement representatives and Republican lawmakers asking Gov. Ned Lamont to suspend a portion of the state’s new police accountability bill that they blame for increasing violence in several Connecticut cities this year.

The union also decried the decision to send 15 state police personnel into Hartford earlier this month to help combat a rise in gun violence in the capital, arguing the move puts troopers at higher risk of injury, death or liability for their actions by working in Hartford, according to a letter addressed to Lamont released Friday.

In this Feb. 5, 2020 file photo, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont delivers the State of the State address at the State Capitol in Hartford, Conn.
In this Feb. 5, 2020 file photo, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont delivers the State of the State address at the State Capitol in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

“Moreover, when you signed the Police Accountability Bill into law, you failed to understand the unintended consequences, which has resulted in a significant increase in violent crimes throughout Connecticut,” the letter began. “Unfortunately, knowing the State Police is understaffed, you decided to expose our Troopers to circumstances that put them more at risk of unnecessary discipline, termination, arrest and/or conviction, injury, or even death.”

The letter follows in the footsteps of several local police department unions, including Hartford, and lawmakers like state Sen. Len Fasano who also have laid the blame for increased violence at the feet of the governor and the new accountability law, although police data show gun violence was increasing before the bill was passed at the end of July. The letter also called on the governor to suspend at least one portion of the new law that changed the standard for officers' use of force.

Union officials have repeatedly said the new definition will make troopers and officers “hesitate” in dangerous situations, potentially putting themselves or members of the public at risk, amid fears they will face discipline or civil or criminal liability for their actions in that moment after the fact.

“Handcuffing our profession, failing to provide the proper training and equipment needed to avoid additional threats to the safety of the public and police officers, and placing us into hostile and dangerous situations contradicts your belief that you understand the dangers we face or that you support those that perform the difficult job of protecting the public,” the state police union letter to Lamont read.

Lamont declined to comment on the letter Friday afternoon.

The letter also singles out the decision to send 14 state police detectives and one sergeant to Hartford earlier this month to help local police try to stem a spike in gun violence with nearly triple the number of shootings with injuries in the capital since the beginning of September over any of the previous three years.

The union notes state police have 940 troopers to serve the entire state, with 350 fewer troopers than 11 years ago, while Hartford has 410 police officers just dedicated to its city.

"Mayor [ Luke] Bronin recently stated that the million-dollar reduction in Hartford Police Department’s budget had ‘zero impact on our staffing,’ " the letter read. “If true, one must ask why crime has risen and why you [Lamont] felt it necessary to assign our Troopers within the City of Hartford.”

Bronin and Hartford police Chief Jason Thody both already have dismissed that criticism and although police unions have blamed the police accountability bill for the increase, police data show gun violence already had increased this year months before the new law was signed at the end of July.

Hartford police have recorded about 200 shootings with injuries and gun homicides through this week, a more than 60% increase over 2019 and already at least a six-year high with two full months left in the year. In New Haven, for example, homicides and shootings with injuries through the first two weeks of October are the highest they have been since 2011.

The rise in Hartford prompted Thody and Bronin to request the help of state police detectives to crack down on illegal gun possession, drug sales and car thefts that are directly connected to many of the recent shootings. Thody has said the general tenor of anti-police sentiment after months of nationwide protests this summer may have made some shooters more brazen, but he and Bronin denied that officers have been less proactive in the community since the accountability bill passed.

On Thursday, state police released slides purporting to show stats about those troopers' involvement in cases and arrests in Hartford over part of the past two weeks but pulled the slides down from its website a few hours later without explanation. The slides indicated state police were part of two “homicides solved,” but there have been no homicide arrests in Hartford during the dates listed, and state police did not respond to questions about the slides.

The union’s letter Friday also charged Lamont and other public officials will give police and the public “a false sense of security” if he does not respond to the union’s admonitions. The union threatened to host a “press conference” should Lamont not respond.

“Your failure to understand the dangers of our profession, your creation of policy and statute that places our Troopers more at risk of serious injury or even death will not be tolerated,” the letter concluded.

NEXT: Staying resilient during turbulent times in policing

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