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Rocky Hill joins growing chorus on juvenile crime, petitions for state action
Hartford Courant - 9/15/2021
Rocky Hill leaders have launched a petition calling for a special session of the state legislature to address the ongoing surge in car thefts, burglaries and related violent crimes attributed mostly to juvenile repeat offenders.
“The need for action at the state level has never been clearer,” the petition that Mayor Lisa Marotta is circulating says. “We see, time and again, that the hard work at the local level, including increased police presence, resources and community outreach, is not enough to keep our neighborhoods safe.
“We alone cannot effectuate change,” the petition says. “Change must come from the state level.”
Car thefts in Hartford and surrounding municipalities have been on the rise, including a recent spate of carjackings. On a Saturday afternoon last month in Rocky Hill, a group of thieves using a stolen vehicle yanked a woman out of her Porsche outside Mozzicato Bakery and stole the car. Less than a week later, thieves using the same vehicle, a Volkswagen Atlas, carjacked a woman outside a West Hartford post office.
And in Marlborough Saturday, two males abducted a 64-year-old woman from a supermarket parking lot, throwing her into the back seat of her vehicle, viciously beating her and using her ATM card to withdraw money at an East Hartford convenience store before setting her car on fire in Berlin.
Asked about increased crime and the Marlborough incident, Gov. Ned Lamont said, “I think the most important thing is, let’s see how getting people back to school makes a difference. Get them off the street. We had a lot of high school-aged kids who haven’t been in school for a long time.
“Number two,’ Lamont said, “we’re getting the money out to the social service agencies so they can reach out to young people – those at risk – and head them off. Those who are a first offender, make sure that they just don’t go home, but they come in for some of the supports they need.’’
The hit-and-run death of a 53-year-old jogger in New Britain on June 29 galvanized town and state leaders and police chiefs over the juvenile crime issue. A 17-year-old New Britain male who was driving the stolen vehicle, police said, had been arrested 13 times over the last 3 1/2 years, including on charges of robbery, reckless driving, assault with a knife, larceny and possession of narcotics.
Under a statewide change that went into effect recently, judges and police will receive 24/7 access to juvenile suspects’ criminal histories before deciding whether they can be released. Democrats praised the administrative change as an important bipartisan development, but Republicans said it does not go far enough, renewing a call for a special session to make more changes focused on repeat offenders.
Asked about the Rocky Hill petition seeking a special session, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, a Democrat, said, “Addressing youth crime in our communities is a complex issue that deserves the highest level of attention and analysis.
“State leaders have been working tirelessly with community members and law enforcement officials to find bipartisan solutions to respond to the concerns that have been expressed on this issue,” Rojas, who represents East Hartford and Manchester, said.
He noted the change granting police access to juvenile arrest records, calling it “an important step and the result of these ongoing conversations.
“I remain committed to addressing youth crime and will continue to work alongside my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to develop smart policy that delivers long-term results,” Rojas said.
Marotta said Tuesday that the recent changes are welcome, but not enough. More must be done to make young criminals accountable, Marotta said.
Residents are scared, she said. An elderly woman she met recently at a church service, Marotta said, told her she put a knife under her pillow and cut herself while sleeping.
“People are afraid to pump their gas, afraid to use the ATM,” the mayor said.
Marotta said she has been urging municipal leaders in the area to join the petition drive.
“There’s strength in numbers,” she said.
Addressed to Lamont and state lawmakers, the petition signed by “concerned elected officials,” residents and business owners says, “Property crime continues to run rampant throughout our municipalities, resulting in the loss of life, safety and property.”
“The codification of new law,” it says, “is essential to deter behavior, particularly that of the 10% of repeat juvenile offenders who lack accountability and a system that provides adequate resources necessary to decrease recidivism rates.”
Republican lawmakers have called for mandatory electronic monitoring of juveniles arrested while awaiting trial on previous offenses and mandatory fingerprinting for certain serious crimes. They also have called for the Judicial Branch, in consultation with the Office of the Public Defender and other agencies, to study and report to the judiciary committee the staffing level of juvenile probation officers, the number of juvenile diversionary and pretrial programs and their content and efficacy in reducing recidivism and the availability and efficacy of juvenile job training and drug treatment programs.
Rocky Hill joins a growing chorus. Glastonbury’s town council recently approved a resolution calling on the governor and General Assembly to convene a special session and enact “meaningful and effective reform to juvenile laws to provide consequences, accountability and resources to support law enforcement and to protect the safety and well-being of citizens and property from serious and potentially life threatening crimes...”
Wethersfield Mayor Michael Rell said he plans to circulate the petition to the town council and he hopes the council will join the demand for a special session. The Republican mayor leads a 6-3 majority on the council, but said the issue should not be partisan.
“This is a problem that affects everybody, and we should collaborate as a team,” Rell said.
Despite the recent high-profile cases, an analysis of police data statewide released earlier this year found the number of car thefts plummeted over the last 30 years to a historic low in 2019. The approximately 6,200 car thefts in 2020 was an increase of about 250 over the previous year, but even with the increase, the 2020 total was lower than in 2018, according to analysis by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University.
Those data follow nationwide trends on the overall drop in car thefts over the past several decades and the slight increase in the crime during the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers do not correlate with Connecticut’s juvenile justice reform laws over the past decade, IMRP project manager Ken Barone concluded when he presented the findings to the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee.
Referrals to juvenile court for motor vehicle thefts did increase in 2020 alongside the overall increase in car thefts over the previous year’s totals, according to an analysis by the public defender’s office, but the exact number of referrals was not immediately available.
Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at email@example.com
Courant staff writer Christopher Keating contributed to this story
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