Connecticut Republicans want special legislative session scheduled for next week to address crime

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Prompted by high-profile incidents in traditionally low-crime towns, top Republicans on Tuesday again called for the special legislative session scheduled for next week to address “a crime wave.”

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford and Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford are asking Gov. Ned Lamont to add crime to the special session that is already scheduled for extending his emergency powers.

“Our state is fully submerged in a crime wave that legislative Democrats have willfully ignored despite justifiable outrage from their constituents who demand action,’' the Republican leaders said in a statement released Tuesday. “It’s shameful that members of the General Assembly will likely meet in special session next week to extend the governor’s emergency powers without addressing this escalating public safety emergency, and the governor himself has been far too timid in his response to the shocking nature of these serious crimes.’'

But top Democrats have repeatedly maintained that the session will be devoted exclusively to Lamont’s powers during the COVID-19 pandemic and will not include issues like crime or rising gasoline prices. They point to recent changes that could allow police to hold dangerous suspects longer after an arrest.

Lamont said the special session is intended to address continuing his emergency powers during the COVID pandemic.

“I think it’s going to be a one-day special session, really focused on making sure we can stay safe’' during the coronavirus pandemic, Lamont said during an appearance in Stamford.

Lamont’s chief spokesman, Max Reiss, said Tuesday night that “vital executive orders are about to expire pertaining to requiring masks in schools, mandating vaccinations for state workers and school personnel, and providing the flexibility to test and vaccinate residents on a moment’s notice.”

“The governor and the legislature will take action in the upcoming special session to extend those precautions,’’ Reiss said.

Republicans are particularly concerned about the gunpoint robbery and abduction of a 64-year-old woman in Marlborough on Sept. 11 by two men in a supermarket parking lot in a small town of less than 7,000 residents. In addition, police are searching for a male suspect after a double stabbing Monday night at a gas station in Essex, a shoreline town that is known for a low crime rate.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven said next week’s special session in the Senate will be devoted only to Lamont’s powers, adding that he was strongly opposed to the request by Republicans.

“This is grandstanding on their part,’' Looney said Tuesday.

After “a more deliberative discussion’' on crime in the coming months, a special session could be held before the next regular session in February “if there is consensus among Democrats,’' Looney said.

The Marlborough kidnapping was the latest in a series of brazen and violent crimes involving cars, including car jackings and shots being fired during car burglaries in Hartford suburbs. On a Saturday afternoon in August in Rocky Hill, thieves pulled a woman from her Porsche outside a bakery and stole her car, police said. Days later, the same car that the thieves used when they first pulled up to the Porsche, a Volkswagen Atlas, was used at a carjacking outside a West Hartford post office.

“In my time living in Marlborough, I have never seen my friends, my neighbors, my constituents so scared and concerned about crime in our neighborhoods,’' said Rep. Robin Green, a Marlborough Republican. “Our residents are brave, and they are doing everything they can to adapt to this new reality: being aware of their surroundings, traveling together, forming neighborhood watch groups. … The leaders of this state need to come together immediately to address this situation before any more people get hurt.’'

Republicans started gathering petition signatures in July for a special session on the issue, and Democrats responded with a bipartisan group to address the issue.

That group pushed a new initiative that started on Sept. 1 so that judges and police will now receive information faster on the criminal history of juveniles before deciding whether they can be released after an arrest late at night and on weekends.

Democrats praised the administrative change as an important bipartisan development in response to the recent wave of car thefts and break-ins by juveniles — adding that a special session was not immediately necessary.

House Speaker Matt Ritter of Hartford said recently that he was not ruling out a special session in the future, but he said that the new initiative will be key in battling crime.

“I think this will go a long way,’' Ritter said. “I think this one may make the most difference, quite frankly, of all the suggestions that I’ve heard so far.’’

Now, a juvenile probation officer will be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide criminal histories that the judges often did not have in the recent past. In addition, officials said the information should be available about one hour after requested by a police department.

In another incident in West Hartford on Aug. 24, a 78-year-old woman was knocked to the ground and had her purse stolen during a robbery. Soon after, an attempted robbery was reported by a 65-year-old woman on New Britain Avenue in an incident involving “the victim being dragged and causing injury,’' police said.

Despite the recent high-profile cases, an analysis of police data statewide released earlier this year found the number of car thefts plummeted over the last 30 years to a historic low in 2019. The approximately 6,200 car thefts in 2020 was an increase of about 250 over the previous year, but even with the increase, the 2020 total was lower than in 2018, according to analysis by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University.

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com

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