Linehan: Ways To Keep Community Safe

Linehan: Ways To Keep Community Safe

On Thursday, Aug. 5, the Cheshire Police Department confirmed that an incident had taken place near Maple Avenue, and that shots had been fired into a vehicle.

According to the police, a resident had observed individuals rummaging through cars and eventually verbally confronted the suspects, at which time a shot was firedinto his car.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. 

I must reiterate what Cheshire Police have said — the safest course of action is to call the authorities and not engage criminals who may be armed and dangerous. With that said, I want to be very clear: Violence against any of our residents cannot and will not be tolerated. 

As your elected Representative, I am committed to the safety of our community and continue to work towards that goal. I’ve been asked by constituents to make a public statement about what I’ve done to help combat the issue. 

I 100% support the detention of juveniles in these cases, and I always have. But I believe we must do a better job of not having a one-size-fits-all approach to incarceration. Repeat offenders must be treated more harshly than first-timers, but our current system doesn’t allow the right people — the police and judges — to easily see and access open juvenile cases. That is why I have been fighting for better access to records over the past legislative session, and I hope that legislative leadership in both parties are close to making that happen.

Additionally, this past session I was successful in passing legislation that requires the Judicial Department to find a way to adjudicate juvenile cases in 30 days. This makes a significant difference in the ability to apply harsher penalties for youths who are repeat offenders. And as Chair of the Children’s Committee, I have required that the Judicial Department submit a report to my committee by Dec. 31, regarding the feasibility of overhauling our juvenile courts so as to pivot to the drug court model, which demands juveniles submit to weekly in-person check-ins, job search requirements, and other accountability measures while waiting for their cases to be adjudicated. This model has proven to reduce recidivism by up to 30% in other states. 

During this legislative session, the Judiciary Committee also passed legislation requiring data be kept regarding the requests to detain juveniles. Municipal police departments have said that judges do not grant the requests to detain, but judges have replied that they receive very few such requests. As a legislature, it is our job to create laws based on data, and I commend the Committee for requiring that data be kept so that we can know the crux of the issue before we act with permanency. We must be careful not to create unintended consequences, it’s the only responsible way to create laws. 

Additionally, it is believed that these theft rings include adults using juveniles to evade arrest. This year, I was part of the group that created a new law making it a crime to entice a minor to commit a felony, to address that issue. This law goes in to effect in October. 

However, the process of creating and implementing laws is admittedly slow, and we need immediate action. I believe what is needed is more police — more patrols on the overnights, more officers visibly on our streets. Criminals are less likely to come in to Cheshire if Cheshire police are visible everywhere. To that end, the Town Council should immediately call for additional overtime for our officers on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. 

Historically, even since my time on the Town Council from 2013-2017, Cheshire has had a difficult time filling open vacancies for the Department, due to changes in the way we pay our officers. Switching to a hybrid retirement system rather than a defined benefit plan (pension) has made working in Cheshire less desirable compared to other communities and, as such, the Town has not been able to staff the Department at levels deemed appropriate by the FBI.

According to the CPD, two officers have recently entered the Police Academy. This is a positive step, but going through the Academy takes time. The immediate action, again, is more overtime for officers so they can be on our streets, patrolling our neighborhoods, as visible deterrents to criminals. The Town should also investigate whether it’s time to revert back to a defined benefit retirement for the purpose of recruiting and retaining quality officers to keep our town safe. 

The usual partisan refrain online is that these individuals face no punishments, and the false assertion that, as your elected Representative, I do not believe criminals should be prosecuted. Nothing is further from the truth. And the truth is important. The truth is that when these suspects are caught, they will be arrested and detained. That is the law. And the truth is that there is a real bipartisan effort to find solutions to this issue, and that work is being done daily at the state level. And the truth is that this problem takes more than state action, but local action as well. 

Juvenile crime has alarmingly increased in suburban neighborhoods, and incidents involving weapons are scary and dangerous. The data shows that car thefts in general have significantly decreased over the last decade, but that suburban areas along our interstates (like Cheshire) have seen a significant increase in car break-ins and thefts. This is fact. The facts are also that the Raise the Age legislation (which passed years before I was elected to office) did not raise juvenile crime rates. The legislation creating juvenile diversionary programs in 2019 (championed by another Cheshire representative) has not been in existence long enough to accurately gauge its success, but I hope it proves to lessen recidivism and I anxiously await that data.

But the Chiefs Association, including our Chief Dryfe, have said these extreme incidents are the result of a few dozen juveniles, over and over, and do not necessarily reflect all of juvenile crime. Any violent episode is very concerning, and those offenders should be detained, jailed, and have a public record. But it is also a reason for further diligence in creating laws that are proportionate, effective, and do not have the unintended consequences of creating life-long criminals based on a non-violent first offense. 

Word from legislative leaders is the bipartisan working group tackling this issue is close to a consensus. I will continue to advocate for legislation on the state level, and am prepared to enter special session when consensus is reached. This work should not be done in a vacuum, therefore I will also continue to call for more police on the overnight shift. 

The facts are also clear that our current practices are not working. So it’s time to think differently. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation. The plans I’ve helped put in to action, and the work of the bipartisan legislative working group, are important to solving the issue long-term. The call for more officers on the streets is as important as changing our state laws, and is absolutely necessary for the immediate safety of our residents. And help from you, our residents, is extremely valuable. As officials work on the long-and short-term solutions to this problem, you can help by calling the police whenever you see something suspicious in the middle of the night; remember to lock your doors; be sure to take your keys and valuables inside; and make sure items are not visible in your car. Finally, please always leave the policing up to the police, and never engage or chase a suspected criminal. 


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