HARTFORD — House Republicans on Wednesday called for immediate action on the juvenile crime crisis affecting communities throughout Connecticut, with caucus leadership requesting a special legislative session to implement long-overdue solutions.
“To say that this issue has reached a boiling point would be a gross understatement. As residents have begun their own policing to protect their property and lives, and now with a loss of a life in New Britain, it should be clearer than ever to Democrats that the legislature must tackle this issue head-on as quickly as possible,” said House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford. “I’m disappointed that the Democrats failed to take up any House Republican reforms and continue to leave unsolved problems in the hands of our local leaders, law enforcement and residents. Throughout session we heard cries for equity, yet Democrats continue to create an imbalance by completely ignoring the cries from victims of crime while advancing more privileges and protections for those committing the crimes.”
Heading into the 2021 legislative session, addressing the state’s juvenile car theft crisis was a top priority for House Republicans. The problem has grown more acute since the start of the year, including a suspect that rammed a state police cruiser in Tolland and headline-grabbing incidents where cars were stolen from their owners while young children were inside—and now, a pedestrian killed in New Britain after being struck by what police said was a stolen vehicle.
House Republicans introduced bills and amendments aimed at adding teeth to components of the state’s watered-down juvenile justice system, including concepts such as:
- Eliminating the statutory limit of 6 hours that a juvenile can be held in detention without an order from the court;
- Including the DCF in the investigation of family circumstances of a repeat offender charged with stealing a car or any offense involving a deadly weapon;
- Broadening criteria for a court to deem a juvenile a risk to public safety on a second offense instead of a third;
- Amending the model police pursuit policy to allow officers to pursue suspects stealing cars in certain circumstances;
- Evaluating the need for support services for the individual and/or family;
Democrats rejected many Republican measures, instead focusing on creating a misdemeanor offense aimed at adults who entice juveniles to commit criminal acts, and another that would have the Judicial Branch study the feasibility of decreasing the amount of time between the arrest of a child and the initial court appearance.
“Nobody serving in the legislature, and certainly nobody on the Republican side of the aisle, wakes up each day rooting for detentions and convictions, but the fact of the matter is that young people understand that they live in a state where they’ll face few consequences for their criminal behavior,” said Deputy Republican Leader Rosa Rebimbas, former Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee. “When a 17-year-old kid is arrested twice in two different stolen vehicles within five hours, it should have been clear to Democrats that we needed to act. Given today’s news, that a 17-year-old with a rap sheet of serious crimes has been arrested in the New Britain case, it should be clearer than ever. Nibbling around the edges with studies, forums and platitudes isn’t enough—people who live in the many communities affected by these crimes deserve meaningful action. Victims deserve solutions.”
While expressing the need for that greater level of accountability, Rebimbas, of Naugatuck, also said the legislature can’t ignore the pursuit of striking the correct balance between law enforcement action and the need to tackle community and familial issues that can foster criminal activity. Legislators must prioritize resources for both sides of the scale, she said.
Republicans, pointing to Democrats’ swift adoption of expansive “police accountability” legislation in the summer of 2020, say the majority party can act decisively when it chooses.
“Coming off a legislative session where Democrats and the Governor expended significant energy eroding our criminal justice system, we’re skeptical that they’ll meet our call for action on this issue. However, it’s our hope that public uproar has reached a level they can no longer ignore,” Candelora and Rebimbas said. “We remain ready to work with our colleagues and hope to see them begin a process to get solutions on paper and onto the voting board.”