NORTH HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Republican state leaders joined community members for a special forum on juvenile justice reform Monday night. This meeting is one of a long string of meetings where victims of violent crime are asking lawmakers for a special session to look at the problem.
As part of the forum at the Mildred Wakely Community and Recreational Center Monday, they discussed changes to Connecticut laws over the last 10 years, the most recent data, details of the Senate Republican’s SaferCT.com plan, and House Republicans’ plan to address the problem through legislation, and answer residents’ questions about this issue.
The meeting was held in response to concerns of residents statewide who are alarmed by the rise in juvenile crime, most especially the rampant increase in incidents involving car break-ins, carjackings, and car thefts.
“The new normal in Connecticut of shoplifting and car thefts is not where we need to be as a state,” House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora (R-86) said. “So we need to start looking at these reforms and try to make us safer.”
For many homeowners, property owners, and victims, these crimes are personal, with many feeling like their voices aren’t being heard.
Leading the charge is Farmington Police James O’Donnell and his wife, Chris. James was crushed against his cruiser while trying to arrest a man in a stolen car back in September. He has a long road to recovery.
“I actually thought my dash camera was worse because I had the audio of me actually getting hit. That was a whole lot more traumatic for me to listen to than to see what had happened on my sergeant’s camera,” Officer O’Donnell said.
On Sept. 20, Officer O’Donnell was responding to a call for stolen catalytic converters when the suspect, in an attempt to flee, crushed the officer against his cruiser. Dashcam video shows O’Donnell, gun drawn, a car driving towards him but he did not fire because of the Police Accountability Law.
“It makes you start thinking the ‘what ifs’, and of course everyone’s going to 2020 hindsight quarterback in the morning, and I try not to think of it in that sense,” he explained.
Officer O’Donnell says that law has changed the way police do their job, it has emboldened both juvenile and adult criminals.
“It was done through pure emotion and it’s taking its toll on police, not just my situation but other situations.”
Some of those other situations O’Donnell is referring to include one in October. A 13-time convicted criminal out on probation for a firearms violation shot point-blank into a Hartford police cruiser’s passenger window, and in the mayor’s words, tried to assassinate the officer.
The next day in Norwich, a man with a high-powered rifle fired through the windshield of a police cruiser responding to the shots fired call. And in Naugatuck, an officer was run over by shoplifters fleeing from a store.
Officer O’Donnell said, “Without a doubt when the Accountability Law was put in place it was a playbook for criminals, there were things mentioned in there they know we can’t do now.”
Kris O’Donnell added, “They have the power to change it. I just believe they are waiting until closer to the election to do all of this stuff and there is going to be a lot of damage done to the State of Connecticut before that happens.”
The legislative session is scheduled to open nearly three months from now and that is why they’re pushing for a special session now before more people get hurt and killed.