UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — With the deadly ambush of two Connecticut police officers still fresh in voters’ minds, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski on Tuesday blamed a police reform law signed by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont for encouraging lawlessness as the pair met in the final debate of the race.
The claim sparked a sharp rebuke from Lamont, who accused his opponent of politicizing the tragedy, calling it the “cheapest grandstanding imagined.”
Besides the economy and inflation, crime has been a key issue in the rematch race between Lamont and Stefanowski. It has become more heated since three Bristol Police officers were shot Oct. 12 in what police believe was an ambush set up by a 911 call made by the shooter. Two Bristol officers died.
Stefanowski recently began running a TV ad that features the wife of a police officer from another department who was seriously injured after being run down by repeat criminal. In the ad, the woman, whom Stefanowski pointed out in the debate audience, says she blames Lamont for the crime.
Two years ago, Lamont signed into law a wide-ranging bill, proposed in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, that made numerous changes to policing in Connecticut. It created a new inspector general to investigate police use-of-force cases, limited circumstances in which deadly force is justified, and allowed more civilian oversight of police departments.
The most contentious part of the new law, which sparked a protest at the state Capitol, allowed civil lawsuits against officers by individuals who have had their constitutional rights violated by police if those actions were deemed “malicious, wanton or willful,” among other things.
Following Tuesday’s debate, Stefanowski called it “unconscionable” for Lamont not to consider revamping the law after the two officers were killed.
“For him to not even consider, not even consider changing it, is crazy,” said Stefanowski, who said he has heard from police officers who believe the legislation helped to create a culture of “tolerance” for criminals and a lack of respect for police officers. Stefanowski, who has been endorsed by multiple police unions in the state, accused Lamont of showing a “lack of respect” for law enforcement.
Lamont said it was a “horrible accusation” for Stefanowski to say he doesn’t care about officers.
“That’s shocking. You know, I was there at Rentschler Field,” he said referring to the stadium where a massive funeral was held for Bristol officers Dustin DeMonte and Alex Hamzy. “I was there with 15,000 men and women in blue. I know exactly what that means. I just think you can’t make those accusations. It’s false and unfair and they’re wrong.”
Rob Hotaling, the governor candidate on the Connecticut Independent Party ticket and the only biracial contender in the race, said he understands the safety concerns of police officers but also the safety concerns of people like him who have been racially profiled for crimes they didn’t commit.
“When you go through that experience, you realize you take a different perspective on the police accountability bill,” said Hotaling. He said he agreed with Lamont that Stefanowski was “politicizing” the issue.
“Police officers lost their lives. We need to respect that. But then you look at, OK, how do we make sure our communities are safe? Our police are safe? We should leave the politicization out of the way,” he said. “There’s no room for that in a civil society.”