New law creates permanent 'Fallen Officer Fund' for CT police

Police chiefs and Republicans joined the Democratic governor, but the show of unity masked a deep divide over how to protect law enforcement officers.

John Craven

May 15, 2024, 10:48 PM

Updated 63 days ago


As a cold rain fell over the Connecticut Police Memorial on Wednesday morning, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a new law to provide financial assistance for the families of officers killed in the line of duty.
Police chiefs and Republicans joined the Democratic governor, but the show of unity masked a deep divide over how to protect law enforcement officers.
As Lamont signed the legislation, flags flew at half-staff for National Peace Officers Memorial Day.
“Our police show up to keep us safe in the most hellacious of circumstances," Lamont said. “This bill is just one way that we can say to you, ‘We’ve got your back.’”
The Fallen Officer Fund was created in last year’s state budget, but the new law enshrines it into state law. Surviving families can collect a $100,000 lump sum payment and up to five years of health benefits. Currently, the fund has $900,000 budgeted, enough money to cover 9 victims.
“If the ultimate sacrifice is made, I want you to know we’re there standing with you, standing with your families, making sure they get the bonus they need,” Lamont said.
The family of Hartford Police Detective Bobby Garten, killed by a driver fleeing a traffic stop last September, was the first to benefit. Garten’s name was just added to the National Police Memorial in Washington, D.C., this week.
“What they do worry about are those that they may leave behind – their wives, their husbands, sons, their daughters,” said Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody.
And even more help is headed to first responders. Lamont told reporters that he will also sign legislation expanding workers compensation benefits for police and firefighters who die from a cardiac event, stroke or pulmonary embolism within 24 hours of a shift.
Lawmakers created the fund after two Bristol police officers were killed in a violent ambush in 2022.
“Being woken out of bed with that news is something that will be forever emblazoned in my mind,” said Mark Morello, Bristol’s interim police chief.
Although Sgt. Alex Hamzy and Lt. Dustin DeMonte’s families cannot collect money from the Fallen Officer Fund, Morello said they have received an outpouring of generosity from the public.
“That loss is forever going to be in their hearts,” he said. “Somebody who was very near and dear to them isn’t coming home.”
Despite Wednesday’s public showing of unity, Democrats and Republicans are far apart on how to prevent officer deaths.
“I think we need to put the tools back in the toolbox,” said Connecticut House GOP leader Vin Candelora (R-North Branford). “For them to be able to pursue, for them to be able to do consent searches.”
Republicans have unsuccessfully fought to roll back the 2020 police accountability law, passed after the murder of George Floyd. The law redefines “excessive force” and made it easier to personally sue officers for “wanton” civil rights violations.
The law appears to be working. Racial disparities are down for police stops, including fewer unwarranted vehicle searches, according to a report unveiled in November by the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project.
“We found, in previous years, that Black and Hispanic motorists were three to five times more likely to be asked to have their vehicle searched,” project manager Ken Barone said in November. “And those searches were not yielding very high rates of contraband.”
However, overall traffic stops are also down compared to pre-pandemic levels.
In Connecticut, 157 officers have died in the line of duty since 1833, according to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Morello said it’s a loss that Bristol police will never forget.
“I don't think we'll ever get over it,” he said. “But we will continue to go to work – day in and day out – and do the very best job that we can.”

More from News 12