Gov. Lamont and police hail controversial youth crime law
Gov. Ned Lamont joined police leaders Tuesday to hail a controversial new youth crime law. Although it passed by a wide margin, the law is a compromise few are completely happy with.
With elections looming this fall, state lawmakers were under intense pressure to address crime after a rash of violent car thefts. In one case, jogger Henryk Gudelski was killed when a stolen car jumped a sidewalk in New Britain. The driver was a teenager arrested a dozen times in the last four years.
The new law will give investigators more access to juvenile crime records, including pending charges.
"It's important for a police officer, an investigator, in Waterbury to know and understand whether the juvenile that we're dealing with locally may be involved in an auto theft issue or violent crime issue in Glastonbury or Ansonia or some other part of the state,” said Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo.
Auto theft penalties will now be determined by the suspect's criminal record, not the car's value – a move likely to mean stiffer charges and sentences. Also, police can hold minors up to eight hours and a judge must arraign them within five days. Judges can also order GPS monitoring for repeat offenders.
"These gaps have allowed a small number of serious and dangerous juvenile offenders to remain on the streets, continue re-offending,” said Glastonbury Police Chief Marshall Porter.
But the law faces criticism for both sides. Juvenile justice groups say it goes too far, while conservatives say it doesn’t go far enough.
A Republican plan called for mandatory GPS monitoring and fingerprinting, as well as trying more kids as adults.
"[The new law] moves the needle in the right direction, but it doesn't finish the job,” said state Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford), the Connecticut Senate minority leader.
Juvenile justice groups blasted the new law – and Lamont’s support for it.
“Any bill that supposedly looks to address crime is just an election-year ploy that only serves to lock up Connecticut’s children, especially those that are Black and Brown," said Iliana Pujols, policy director for the Connecticut Justice Alliance. “Several law enforcement officials at Gov. Lamont’s press conference today remarked that car thefts are on the decline. The passage of the bill touted by the governor and others had no impact on those declining numbers.”
Critics say teen car thefts aren't even a real problem. They spiked in 2020, when youth prevention services shut down due to COVID, but preliminary statistics from the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy show thefts actually dropped in 2021.
Lamont didn't get everything he wanted either. The governor’s original proposal called for stricter rules on untraceable "ghost guns."
"I think they're incredibly dangerous,” said Lamont. “I think they're flooding our streets.”