Two weeks after the governor’s office released a comprehensive report on statewide crime trends, Gov. Dannel Malloy and Republican candidate Tom Foley have begun to discuss their plans to reinforce public safety in Connecticut.
Mike Lawlor, Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, issued the 2014 Mid-Year Update on Crime Trends on Aug. 12, highlighting a series of statistics that demonstrate significant reductions in violence, arrests and recidivism across the state. Lawlor maintains that such trends are evidence of a safer Connecticut since Malloy assumed office, and pointed to specific legislative efforts as potential reasons for the improvement.
“People are looking for reports on how effective this or that policy initiative has been in the criminal justice world,” Lawlor said. “We’re seeing the first clear signs that things are heading in the right direction.”
One of the report’s key figures is the state’s 86 murders in 2013, its lowest number since 1969. The report goes on to indicate that the aggregate number of murders in the state’s three major cities — New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport — also dropped, contributing to the broader trend. The three cities collectively saw 81 murders in 2011, and that number fell to 56 in both 2012 and 2013. It subsequently climbed back to 56 in 2013, but Lawlor said the aggregate decrease in homicides was a reason for optimism.
Also of note was a drop in the reported index crimes — which include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and motor vehicle theft — from 86,994 to 79,924 between 2012 and 2013. In comparison, the highest number of reported index crimes in the last 25 years came in 1990, when the state saw 177,068 such cases.
Though he did not specify any public initiative as the principal cause for these improvements, Lawlor did note that Malloy and his team entered the term with three goals in mind: reducing crime, reducing spending and restoring residents’ confidence in the criminal justice system.
He said that the state has been able to accomplish these goals through directed efforts to engage at-risk youth, restrict access to firearms and enhance imprisonment and parole systems.
“We think that there is a whole assortment of initiatives and policy changes and tactics that have contributed to this [trend,]” Lawlor said. “It’s a mentality that focuses on prioritizing certain types of efforts in the criminal justice system.”
Lawlor added that prioritizing violent crime reduction over victimless crimes like drug possession and abuse have also resulted from the governor’s changed approach.
Still, some question both the notion that Malloy’s policies have had the desired effect and that crime has, in fact, fallen to the degree that the report suggests.
During the first debate of the general election, held Wednesday night in Norwich, Foley claimed that Malloy could not take credit for declining crime rates in Connecticut because crime is down in the nation as a whole. Foley also pointed to the fact that despite improvements, New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport are still among the most violent U.S. cities with populations under 200,000.
“For the governor to be going around saying crime is low and it’s not a problem is insulting to those communities,” Foley said. “In many of these communities people are afraid to leave their homes at night.”
Malloy countered by saying that he was not complacent about the crime that does exist in Connecticut. He credited SB-1160, the gun law he signed in April 2013 in the wake of the Newtown shootings, with decreasing the threat of illegal gun ownership.
The day after the debate, Mark Bergman, a spokesman for the Malloy campaign, said the governor had formed relationships with local police authorities to support community policing programs in cities such as New Haven.
“It’s about being a partner with local communities,” Bergman said. “Things are getting better because we have a governor who’s committed to working with local officials to get guns off the street.”
Bergman said economic growth has also played a role in reducing crime. According to the Connecticut Department of Labor, Connecticut’s unemployment rate has been slowly declining since it reached 9.5 percent in October 2010, a month before Foley and Malloy first showed down at the ballot box.
Foley, however, has repeatedly criticized Malloy for presiding over a slow economic recovery. The state’s .9 percent growth in 2013 ranked it 39th in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Gary Rose, chair of the department of government at Sacred Heart University, said most voters will likely focus more on economic concerns when they cast their vote, such as jobs and taxes than on crime. In July, the state’s unemployment rate of 6.6 percent hovered above the nationwide rate of 6.1 percent.
“I would say that crime is, at best, a tertiary issue in this campaign,” Rose said.
Before the debate, Foley released a nine-page document titled “A Plan for Restoring Pride and Prosperity in Connecticut.” The word “crime” does not appear in the document a single time.
Malloy’s campaign website addresses crime under the heading “Quality of Life,” with two paragraphs that discuss the post-Newtown gun law and Project Longevity, the community policing program operating in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford.