CHESHIRE – Town Council members are pushing state lawmakers to prioritize addressing a spike in car burglaries and thefts, a problem many police officials are attributing to juveniles.
Councilors on Wednesday night urged state senators and representatives to make the necessary changes to reduce the trend, saying they are worried about dangerous confrontations with homeowners.
“We’re trying to find a way to avoid that situation,” said Town Council Chairman Rob Oris, a Republican.
Sen. Mary Abrams and Rep. Liz Linehan, both Democrats, and Republicans Sen. Rob Sampson and Rep. Lezlye Zupkus attended the meeting.
Linehan outlined responses she’s received from state agencies and the judicial system on juvenile crime. Last year, responsibility for juvenile detention was transferred from the state Department of Children and Families to the judicial branch.
“The system was in flux and there was nowhere to house the kids,” Linehan said. She’s been told that new facilities have been established and there is now space to detain juveniles.
Linehan said judges have discretion over whether to detain a juvenile who poses a risk to public safety. She’s looking into the definition of public safety and changes are needed to keep juvenile burglars from committing crimes and going free.
Sampson blamed former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Second Chance Society policies for reducing the consequences for juvenile criminals.
“That’s why we’re in the situation we’re in,” he said.
Police Chief Neil Dryfe said law enforcement officials have grown frustrated with the judicial system’s inability to hold juveniles who have committed crimes, even those who are found in stolen cars.
“Just the fact of being in a stolen car, that’s not something that juvenile court judges are detaining juveniles for,” Dryfe said. He also said the state isn’t properly funding programs that state officials claim work in reducing juvenile crime rates.
Oris said he wasn’t convinced by explanations from state judicial officials about recent juvenile crime.
“The fact is, it’s not working in Cheshire,” he said. “It’s escalating to the point that people are fearful that something bad is going to happen.”
The group also discussed raising the threshold for when towns must pay prevailing wages for projects, as well as tax exemptions and state land in the north end of town.
Abrams addressed council concerns about vaping and talked about changing laws to reduce youths vaping. She said both Democrats and Republicans were in favor of preventing youths using tobacco.
Abrams, a former assistant high school principal, said she saw firsthand the popularity of vaping among teens increase.
“I saw this phenomenon begin and explode,” she said.
Zupkus told councilors that she opposed a General Assembly proposal to require regionalization among smaller towns, including Cheshire. She said many constituents from Cheshire and other towns have called saying they oppose merging school districts.
“You run a great town. The government should let you run your towns,” Zupkus said.
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