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Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont rejects claim by GOP opponent that he supports defunding police

Hartford Courant
Hartford Courant
 2021-07-26
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Hartford, Ct. - 06/28/2021 - Governor Lamont speaks at the news conference on Gun Violence and Crime Prevention. Photograph by Sofie Brandt | sbrandt@courant.com Sofie Brandt/The Hartford Courant

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont rejected the notion Monday by a Republican political opponent that he favors the national movement of defunding the police, saying that in fact more state troopers are being hired.

Lamont was responding to a tweet by Bob Stefanowski, his opponent in the 2018 gubernatorial race who has been criticizing the Democratic governor lately on various policies.

“Gov. Lamont supported defunding the police, resulting in crime at all-time highs,” Stefanowski tweeted over the weekend.

Lamont responded by talking about the latest troopers to be hired by the state police.

“In a month, we’re doing another class of state police,” Lamont said at an outdoor event in New Haven. “We’ve added an additional class of state police this year and next year. We’re going to have more state police trained, ready to go at the end of this year than we had before — at the end of next year than we had before. It’s the most diverse group of state police we’ve ever had in the history of the state, and I’m really proud of what we’re doing with the state police.”

Asked if he would say if Stefanowski’s tweet was not based in fact, Lamont said, “I would.”

Later Monday, Stefanowski said, “Governor Lamont has a history of saying one thing and doing another. He says he is against defunding police, yet he signed a police accountability bill that passes major costs onto police departments and impedes their ability to keep our communities safe. Even his own state troopers claimed the governor’s motivations were political rather than genuine. The result? Unprecedented violent crime in Hartford.”

Stefanowski’s tweet set off a series of responses on social media. Some Democrats complained that Stefanowski did not allow replies under his own tweet.

Christina Polizzi, a former Connecticut Democratic state party spokeswoman who now serves as national press secretary for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said “Bob’s second gubernatorial run is going to be the exact same as his first: recycled right-wing talking points and baseless claims.’'

Following sharp increases in automobile thefts and gun violence, the state police are coordinating a multipronged response. The state police outlined eight key hot spots for auto thefts, including Hartford, Meriden and New Britain. To respond to the problem, public safety Commissioner James Rovella contacted the chiefs and said they should move ahead with regional task forces that could share information and lead to arrests to combat the stolen car problem.

The state police currently have about 850 troopers, down from a peak of about 1,300 under then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell more than a decade ago.

The defund the police movement became widespread following the death of George Floyd while handcuffed and in the custody of Minneapolis police last year. As the movement was growing in June 2020, Lamont was asked if he supported the idea.

“No, I don’t think we should be defunding,” Lamont responded.

Stefanowski cited a letter that was released in July 2020 by Andrew N. Matthews, an attorney and retired trooper who is the leader of the state police union. Matthews argued that the number of troopers had been sharply cut through the years that essentially amounted to the “defunding’' of police.

“In our opinion, this has already occurred here in Connecticut over the past 11 years as the state has reduced our agency by nearly 400 troopers at an estimated annual savings of $57 million,” Matthews wrote in 2020. “These actions only put the public more at risk and will cause long-term harm to public safety.”

Matthews also sharply questioned Lamont’s executive order banning chokeholds — saying that they are already banned and Lamont is politicizing the issue for his “own political benefit.” He said that troopers were reacting with “disappointment and confusion” regarding the order that covers not only chokeholds but the use of force and accountability. The order also called for preventing troopers from firing their guns at moving vehicles.

“Your executive order directs and orders the state police to, in part, prohibit the use of chokeholds,” said the letter by Matthews. “What is confusing is you prohibit the use of chokeholds, but fail to acknowledge that the state police has prohibited chokeholds for more than 30 years. This leads us to believe you are trying to politicize the issue of chokeholds — already banned by the state police — to your own political benefit.”

Lamont responded at the time that he had “a good conversation” with Matthews after receiving the letter, adding, “I have nothing but respect for the state police.”

Courant staff writer Alex Putterman contributed to this report.

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com

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