The U.S. Justice Department is awarding $8.8 million to various Connecticut municipalities and the state for the hiring of more police officers, combating heroin trafficking, reducing school violence and to support community policing.
The biggest recipients of the funds are the City of Hartford, which will receive $3.1 million to hire 10 new police officers, and the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP), which will receive $3.8 million under an Anti-Heroin Task Force award.
Additonally, North Branford will receive $500,000 to support the hiring of four more police officers, while the towns of Colchester, Fairfield, Essex, Norwalk, Vernon and the State Police will receive funds ranging from $28,615 (Norwalk) to $190,000 (Fairfield) to support “community policing development.”
The town of New Hartford will receive $500,000 for a school violence intervention program.
The awards to Connecticut state departments and municipalities is part of a total $334 million being distributed across the country as part of the Justice Department’s Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Violent Crime through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
“Law enforcement officers across the country are showing up every day to protect their communities in the face of unprecedented challenges,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a press release. “These grants, which support the hiring of more than 1700 new officers and make critical investments in school safety and crisis intervention efforts, will help provide local law enforcement agencies with the resources they need to keep their communities safe, support officers, and build public trust.”
The additional funding for more police officers, particularly for Hartford, come amid political differences between Democrats and Republicans over Connecticut’s crime rates, which rose during the pandemic years, part of a nationwide trend.
According to the latest numbers released by DESPP, crime in Connecticut was down 4 percent in 2022, including a 13 percent reduction in violent crime and a 3 percent reduction in property crimes. Republicans had been platforming crime in political campaigns, claiming that Connecticut had become more dangerous under Democrat party’s dominance, particularly by pushing back on the Police Accountability Act passed during the special session in 2021.
Democrats seized on the data to push back on those claims. “This report demonstrates that Connecticut continues to be one of the safest states in the county, with violent and property crimes down from the previous year and below or trending toward pre-pandemic levels,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a press release announcing the report.
“Republicans can pick their own narrative, but they can’t pick their own facts,” the CT Senate Democrats wrote on X (Twitter). “The reality is, crime is at an all time LOW in the state.”
Republicans, however, pushed back, with Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, saying Democrats were “tone deaf” in a press statement and asking residents if they “feel safer.”
In an op-ed for the Connecticut Post, Kelly referenced shootings, police chases, low officer morale and the “public constantly put danger.”
“The majority at the state Capitol tells us that we are safer. They took a victory lap over a recent crime report while failing to note that only 23 percent of Connecticut law enforcement agencies actually provided a full year of crime data. The city of Hartford, for example, only submitted one month’s worth of data for that report,” Kelly wrote.
In July, the Hartford Police Union said the capital city’s police department was having difficulty retaining officers on the job, according to Fox 61, saying the retention rate is 30 percent. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin had recently negotiated a deal for higher pay and the recruiting of 50 new officers to support the department.
The additional funds to Hartford are for another 10 officers in the city.
“We are pleased that communities across Connecticut will benefit from these substantial Justice Department grant awards,” said U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery. “These funds will help fight violent crime, curb the illegal distribution of dangerous narcotics, improve policing, and keep our children safe.”