Editor's note: This story responds to a reader question through the Record-Journal's Voices initiative. Share your question for the candidates by filling out the form below or visit www.myrecordjournal.com/voices.
Candidates for local office are divided on whether local action or state law changes are the answer to a rash of recent vehicle crimes, often perpetrated by juveniles.
Those differences have often fallen along party lines in votes or debates on town and city councils in the area.
Meriden resident Thomas Pannone, a former education administrator and Independent voter, said the justice system lacked teeth for youthful offenders.
“I grew up at a time when stealing a car was a very serious offense,” Pannone said. He wanted to know what local candidates would do to pressure the General Assembly into toughening laws on juvenile offenders.
Pannone said the Democratic majority in the state legislature wasn’t properly addressing the issue.Meriden
Bruce Fontanella, a Democrat and at-large City Council incumbent candidate, said he wants the issue of criminal bonds brought to the attention of state officials. An attorney, Fontanella said bonds are sometimes set too low, allowing the accused to quickly return to the streets.
Fontanella said it’s something that could be brought up to the city’s state delegation.
“I hope it’s still in the governor’s bucket of things to consider when they go back into session,” he said.
The Meriden Police Department’s new “on-street attitude” has shown results, Fontanella said. That’s a way for local officials to prevent further shootings and other violent crimes which have escalated recently.
“My intent would be for the chief (Roberto Rosado) to continue with that effort until we can take these criminals off the street and into jail,” he said.
Ray Ouellet, a Republican Board of Education member running for City Council at-large, is also a police officer in Meriden. He said the car thefts and burglaries are “out of control.”
“The state legislature has to put more meat on the bones (of state laws) to let us do our job out here,” Ouellet said. “It doesn’t appear that they even want to address the issue.”
One juvenile had stolen a car from a local dealership and was caught by police. He was handed over to the custody of an uncle with a “to be determined” court appearance. Catching suspects and then watching them get released was “disheartening,” Ouellet said.
He wants the City Council to press the issue of juvenile justice with the city’s state delegation. Currently Ouellet didn’t see the council as united behind the police department.Southington
Republicans hold a majority on the Southington Town Council and earlier this year passed a resolution calling for juvenile law changes. Republicans and one Democrat, who wasn’t nominated to run for re-election, voted for the resolution. The council’s other two Democrats opposed the resolution and proposed instead adding two more police officers to the town force. The proposal was rejected by Republicans.
Victoria Triano, Republican chairwoman who’s running for re-election, said local police can’t effectively curb car burglaries and thefts until state law allows for consequences when juveniles are caught.
During a brief meeting with Lamont on Monday, Triano said she brought up the crime issue.
“I reinforced again the importance of letting our police officers do the job they’ve been hired to do and that recent legislation ties the hands of police who are trained and very capable of handling situations,” she said.
Democrats questioned the value of a symbolic resolution and why Republicans would vote against more police to help solve the crime issue.
“I didn’t sign the resolution because to me it’s a piece of paper,” said Val DePaolo, a Democratic council incumbent running for re-election who supported hiring more police. “I think you need to take action.”
Kristen Guida, a Democrat and council challenger, said the police department’s task force on car crimes was a more effective method than passing resolutions.
“What has changed as a result of having the resolution in place?” Guida said.
She also asked why a meeting with state legislators on the issue proposed by Republicans never took place.
Triano postponed the meeting earlier this year since the town’s only Democratic representative, Liz Linehan, wasn’t able to attend. She said a meeting isn’t the only way to reach state legislators.
Bill Dziedzic, a Republican councilor running for re-election, said resolutions can be effective ways to influence state government. He believes resolutions opposing tolls passed by towns throughout the state helped prevent those from moving forward.
Earlier this year, he opposed the Democrats’ proposal for more officers since Police Chief Jack Daly said he wasn’t sure if he could fill the positions. The department has been in the process of hiring to fill a host of vacancies created by retirements.
“I’ll always defer to the experts and professionals,” Dziedzic said. “If the chief asks for police officers, I’d happily consider it.”Wallingford
Candidates for Wallingford mayor differed on the scope of the problem as well as the response.
Riley O’Connell, Democratic mayoral candidate, said the crime rate hasn’t significantly increased in recent years although residents are more aware of crimes that do occur.
“Wallingford is a small, tight-knit community,” O’Connell said. “We all hear about (crimes).”
He said attempts to blame state Democrats for car thefts and burglaries was “partisan mudslinging.”
“For the most part it’s finger pointing without suggestions to the improvement of the laws themselves,” O’Connell said. “I haven’t heard anything of substance from Republicans so far to address it.”
He wasn’t supportive of council resolutions or other actions directed at state lawmakers. O’Connell did want to increase staffing at the town’s police department and allow police to use social media to reach residents.
William W. Dickinson Jr., the Republican mayor seeking re-election, said the problem is mostly beyond the reach of local officials. Juveniles who face few consequences if caught are used by adults to steal cars and commit other crimes, Dickinson said.
“The police department is concerned and a little frustrated because there’s not a lot they can do,” Dickinson said. “Ultimately, it is going to take change in state law.”
During the past legislative session, Dickinson said town officials asked Wallingford’s delegation in Hartford to bring the issue up.
“We will be again,” he said.