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West Hartford Town Council to Consider Proposed Crime Petition in Public Safety Committee

West Hartford Town Hall. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Town Council voted 8-1 Tuesday night to have its Public Safety Committee consider a petition asking the general assembly to convene a special session focused on crime.

By Ronni Newton

An agenda item raised by West Hartford Town Council member Mary Fay, submitted as a request for the adoption of language contained in a petition initiated by the Rocky Hill Town Council requesting the General Assembly convene a special session to address property crime, will be considered at a future meeting of the Council’s Public Safety Committee.

The Council voted 8-1 Tuesday night in favor of discussing the issue at the committee level prior to bringing it before the full body for a vote. Fay, one of two current Republican members of the Town Council, cast the lone vote against the decision to move the matter to committee.

“I felt this was extremely important to bring forward,” Fay said, noting that it was a matter about which she has received an overwhelming number of emails and voicemails. She asked the Council to sign onto the petition Tuesday night, and not send it to committee.

Fay cited a report (see PDF below) obtained from West Hartford Police Chief Riddick that showed violent crime indexes had increased 63% between July 2020 and July 2021. Violent crimes include murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and negligent homicide.

The major driver of the increased rate was robbery, of which there were 12 reported between July 2019 and July 2020, and 25 for the 2020-2021 period. Updated statistics for crimes committed year-to-date from September to September, provided to We-Ha.com by Fay and confirmed by West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick (see PDF below) indicated a year-to-year increase in violent crime of 50%. Robbery was also the driver during the comparison period, with 16 reported between September 2019 and September 2020, and 33 over the 2020-2021 period.

The overall crime index in West Hartford, including property crimes and comparing data from September 2019 through September 2020 to the period September 2020 through September 2021, decreased by 16.9% according to information provided by the chief.

“We know that the juveniles have figured out how to beat the system … I’m very concerned about someone getting hurt,” Fay said during the Council meeting. She said following recent carjackings, including the incident in Bishops Corner in August, she has changed her habits, and can’t feel safe sitting in her car and checking her emails.

Referencing the eight people who spoke during the public forum session at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, as well as the letters of support the Council had received in support of her proposal, Fay said, “The people have spoken, this group has spoken, these are our constituents. I think we all need to listen to them and represent them.”

Fay said she’s been a long time supporter of law enforcement, and she won’t support the matter going to committee. “It pains me to see these fine young men and women in uniform out there day after day, trying to keep us safe, and their tool box is empty.”

West Hartford needs to be a leader, Fay said. “This is not a partisan issue,” she said, and the legislature had the opportunity to meet in special session to address crime but they didn’t, she said, because the governor doesn’t see it as a problem.

Newington, Wethersfield, and Rocky Hill already approved the same wording, Fay said, banging on the table for emphasis.

The Hartford Courant reported in September that Rocky Hill Mayor Lisa Marotta, a Republican, had launched a petition asking the state legislature to convene in special session to address disturbing trends in criminal activity, many of which involve juveniles. Other towns, including Wethersfield and Glastonbury, were considering similar action, the Courant report said.

As reported by CTMirror.org, state Senate Republicans have been asking for the legislature to convene to address crime, and dial back some of the measures approved in the 2020 Police Accountability Bill. When the legislature met in the most recent special session in September, it was only to address an extension of the governor’s emergency powers.

“We need to push people to address this,” Fay said. “All this petition, resolution … all it does is codify what you guys area already saying you are already doing in working with our legislators.”

Councilor Carol Blanks, a Democrat who chairs the Pubic Safety Committee, said the proper process for considering the measure raised by Fay would be to discuss it in the committee.

“I would see this referred to Public Safety as other issues have been,” she said, noting that Police Chief Vernon Riddick and his entire team are working on these issues and everyone is concerned about managing crime. “We have statistics and these statistics will show year to year where we fall,” said Blanks.

Chris Williams is currently the only other Republican on the Town Council. “This body has taken positions on a lot of issues outside of its jurisdiction, encouraging the state to act on some issue that the body has determined impacts it … We have precedent to act on something like this.”

Although he is not running for reelection and will not be on the Council when this issue is brought forward, Williams did vote in favor of sending the matter to committee. The “issue itself is pretty much straightforward,” he said. The legislature needs to do something, and he said Chief Riddick has said the state laws are lacking.

“I think this issue is well within our jurisdiction, and I hope in committee it will be addressed because it is an important one. … We have a voice,” Williams said, and he hopes the next Council uses it.

“The most important things go to committee,” Mayor Shari Cantor said. Other issues mentioned by Williams – such as supporting climate change measures – are statements of position, but this is a public safety matter that is different.

“We all agree that crime is serious, escalating crime needs to be addressed … and safety is our no. 1 priority,” Cantor said, noting that the West Hartford Police Department is participating in a regional task force about many of the issues that are of concern.

West Hartford Police have implemented an anonymous tip line, and a better tracking system as well as a video sharing system, Cantor said.

“We can’t solve this by ourselves,” she said, and it needs to be regional – all reasons why it needs to be brought to committee.

During the public forum section of Tuesday night’s Council meeting, eight residents expressed their support for the petition, which many referred to as “Mary Fay’s anti-crime resolution.” More than a dozen also submitted written testimony to the Council in support of a resolution urging the Council to adopt the anti-crime resolution.

Adrienne Maker, who said she recently moved to West Hartford from Haddam, said during the public forum, “My first experience with West Hartford was you have to lock all your doors because you live in West Hartford.” She said her car has been slashed in her driveway as well as in the parking lot of Stop & Shop, and is she is concerned about the town being safe for seniors.

Shawn Daly, chair of West Hartford’s Republican Town Committee, also expressed his support for the resolution.

“Crime has dramatically risen in west Hartford and it is not due to COVID,” Daly said during his testimony.

“According to microtrends.com,” Daly said, “data clearly shows a consistent rise in the crimes of robbery, property crime, larceny, and motor vehicle theft since 2013.” The statistics, in some cases, are above the rate for the state and significantly national average, he said.

“Some will try and be a spin doctor and use misnomers such as ‘this is fear mongering,’” Daly said, which he said is a bullying tactic used by politicians trying to hide the truth. But, he said, the “bottom line is that these are the facts and they are irrefutable.”

Daly also quoted from the analytics site NeighborhoodScout.com, which creates comparisons of neighborhoods often used by those in the real estate industry. Daly quoted an excerpt from the site, which based on data from the FBI, states that: “The crime rate in West Hartford is considerably higher than the national average across all communities in America from the largest to the smallest … in fact the chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime in West Hartford is 1 in 44,” Daly said.

“What’s more, relative to Connecticut, West Hartford has a crime rate that is higher than 89% of the state’s cities and towns of all sizes,” he said.

Daly said these are the facts, and asked the Council to note that while words matter, “actions speak louder than words,” asking for the the legislation not to be thrown before an obscure subcommittee.

Daly provided links to his sources in response to a request by We-Ha.com after the meeting. The property crime statistics were from macrotrends.net, which is a research platform for investors, and can be found here. The full NeighborhoodScout.com report, which goes on to state that West Hartford’s “crime rate was near the average for all other communities of similar size” and “that the violent crime rate is well below the national average for all communities of all population sizes,” can be found here.

Dennis Swanton expressed his support for the resolution, noting that he’s seen crime rise in his neighborhood and stating that there has been lax support for the police.

“I think that we should come up with an anti-crime resolution and show Hartford that West Hartford means business.”

“This is a very bi-partisan issue,” added Chris Torino, another of the speakers.

The next date for a meeting of the Council’s Public Safety Committee has not yet been confirmed. The committee usually meets on the first Wednesday of the month, but the meeting on Nov. 3, the day after Election Day, has been canceled.

The Town Council took action on another crime-related measure Tuesday night, setting for public hearing on Nov. 16 at 7:15 p.m. an “Ordinance Prohibiting the Operation of All-Terrain Vehicles on Public Property” which would give police officers the authority to issue infractions for use of ATVs and other vehicles not licensed for road use on town streets. The ordinance was previously discussed at the Public Safety Committee’s Oct. 6 meeting.

According to Town Manager Matt Hart, there have been several recent incidents in West Hartford involving a large number of ATVs and other vehicles speeding and joy-riding through town. On both Aug. 12 and Sept. 12, police estimated that there were more than 200 such riders, and in an incident on Aug. 15, there were an estimated 70-plus riders.

The text of the petition brought to the Council by Fay, which also contains signature lines, is as follows:

September 2021

Dear Governor Lamont and Connecticut State Lawmakers:

We, the undersigned elected officials, residents, and business owners, remain concerned about the safety of our communities. Property crime continues to run rampant throughout our municipalities resulting in the loss of life, safety, and property. We recognize and appreciate the policy steps you have taken. A broader review of the menu of options before you must occur, however, if we are to address this crisis. The codification of new law 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.

We urge you to fully commit to calling a Special Session to specifically address property crime as it relates to the theft of stolen motor vehicles and theft of property from motor vehicles. Strong, vibrant communities are founded upon safe communities. Our communities are crumbling. We cannot wait a minute longer for you to collaborate with us in finding solutions.

The need for action at the State level has never been clearer. 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. Change must come from the State level.

Please help us do our part to keep communities safe by doing your part. Sincerely,

Concerned elected officials, residents, and business owners.

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