Candidates discuss recent gun violence in Meriden and judicial penalties 

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So far this year there have been 85 confirmed shots fired incidents in Meriden, including four homicides and people struck by gunfire. Local police are working with state and federal agencies to curb this uptick in gun violence, which officials have attributed largely to gang activity. Police Chief Roberto Rosado and city officials said the problem is not isolated to Meriden, and other municipalities around the state are seeing the same issues. 

Rosado said during a virtual Public Safety Committee meeting last week that the incidents of gun violence in Meriden are connected to New Britain, New Haven and Waterbury. Rosado mentioned the support police have received from New Haven Superior Court in obtaining search and arrest warrants at all hours of the day and night. He said court employees are “just as frustrated” as police when they see the same individuals treating the judicial system like a rotating door. 

Meriden resident Thomas Pannone has lived in Meriden for 40 years, after moving from Waterbury. 

“The rash of shootings and overall crime in town is quite alarming, and I believe the major contributing factor is a failure of the judicial system to hold offenders accountable,” Pannone said. “Listen to police officials in every urban area, and they bemoan the ‘revolving door’ of offenders continually set free to wreck havoc on society.”

Dave Bergeron has lived in Meriden for over 40 years and said he has seen a steady decline in the quality of life and an increase in crime. He also asked the candidates to address the recent violence in the city.

“You can build the Green downtown, refurbish parks etc. all you want,” Bergeron said by email this week. “But if the people don’t feel safe, they will not utilize these services.”

Pannone said looking at the police blotter and court dispositions shows the same individuals over and over. Pannone wanted to know from candidates how they would address these recent issues at the legislative level. He submitted a question to the candidates: "What will you propose as legislation to stop the shootings and violent crime in Meriden, and CT? Do you believe stronger judicial laws need to be in place to actually hold criminals accountable?" 

Here is what the candidates in the districts covering Meriden had to say: 

13th Senate District (Meriden, Middletown, Middlefield, Cheshire)

Abrams, Suzio

Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Abrams

Abrams said she has had conversations with Rosado to discuss what is going on with gun violence. Abrams notes Rosado shared his concerns about recidivism. She noted this is a problem throughout the state, not exclusive to Meriden. 

“It is a concern,” Abrams said during a virtual debate with Suzio.

Abrams said the issues need to be looked at in the local and state levels. She said there have been several anti-gun rallies in Meriden along with serious legislation passed, including banning ghost guns and requiring safe storage in vehicles. Abrams noted the legislation about safe storage in vehicles is important because once a gun is stolen it is then used to commit more crimes. She said she is impressed with the police force in Meriden and appreciates the community policing, and believes they are working hard to solve this issue. 

Republican challenger Leonard Suzio

Suzio said the police accountability legislation was passed at the worst time. He said he met with officers who he said are upset and feel that their hands are tied. He said they feel like they can’t be proactive for fear of personal liability. Suzio said the law needs to be reconsidered and noted he doesn’t believe racism is systemic in law enforcement. Suzio noted Meriden is racially diverse and many Meriden officers said they would retire if this law went into effect. 

“If we want to protect the community the first thing we’ve got to think about is protecting our police,” Suzio said. “And making certain that they have the protections that they need when they go out and risk life and limb confronting criminals who are violent in nature.”

82nd House District (Meriden, Middlefield)

Skelps, Quinn, Holloway

Democrat Michael Quinn

Quinn said he believes it is a “two pronged problem” of there being too many guns and opportunities for people to serve lesser sentences.

“I think that while Connecticut gun laws are amongst the toughest in the nation, further modification may be needed to stem the tide of illegal gun acquisition,” Quinn said. “I think that we need to look at the penalties associated with firearm possession and make the necessary changes to toughen up the criminal laws in these areas as well.”

Quinn noted that in his practice as a defense attorney he has represented defendants in gun cases. He said the penalties need to be “stiffened” and the judges need to be given more leeway in how they sentence people. Quinn said that while he is not a fan of mandatory minimum sentences, there needs to be a message sent that there is going to be a penalty for these types of crimes.

Republican Michael Skelps

Michael Skelps, a Middlefield Republican also seeking election to the 82nd District seat, described the reduction of violent crime in the district as “an area of top concern” which “requires a comprehensive solution.”

“Supporting our police through funding is an important aspect, but we should also look at the way we implement policing,” Skelps wrote in an email to the Record-Journal. Skelps said he is a proponent of community policing initiatives like Meriden's Neighborhood Initiative Unit, “where officers are assigned to particular neighborhoods.” 

“Police get to know the residents and vice-versa, and it changes the dynamic to become less oppositional and more collaborative. I support expansion of this type of program in higher-crime areas across the state,” Skelps wrote. 

Expanding the availability of youth programs can also play “an important part in setting a teen on a better path as a means to reduce violence in our community,” Skelps wrote. He added he believes non-profit organizations are more effective at using resources than state bureaucracies, so he would support funding “well-managed non-profits” to oversee such community services. 

Independent Ernestine Holloway

Ernestine Holloway, an Independent candidate seeking the 82nd District seat, said she doesn’t believe the solution involves new legislation. 

“I don’t think we need any new laws,” Holloway said. “We need to use the ones we’ve got on the books already.” 

She added she doesn’t believe existing laws are being properly followed.  “I believe that if we get tough with the laws we’ve already got and use them properly, we wouldn’t have some of these issues.”

Holloway proposed a solution that involves taking a comprehensive look at those who are perpetrating crimes. In particular, Holloway suggested looking at the ages of perpetrators, explaining she believes criminal behavior is something that develops, especially when people are young. “Where did we go wrong as a society that our young people decide they need to pick up a gun?” Holloway asked, suggesting solutions involving outreach to youths and parents. 

83rd House District (Meriden, Berlin)

Abercrombie, Arata

Democratic incumbent Sen. Cathy Abercrombie

Abercrombie said any uptick in violence brings concern. She said she has seen the strength of the police department over her life and believes the chief will utilize the best talent from local, state and federal enforcement as needed. She said she attends city management leadership meetings and, as a part of that, the chief provides the status of policing in the city, including recent events. Abercrombie said she feels there needs to be a formal review of the conditions leading to these incidents, and the outcomes, with the legislative branch.

“As an example, preliminary information may have exposed an opportunity to review how the court's handled pre-trial releases of those accused during this COVID environment,” Abercrombie said. “The full learnings and improvements recommended during this review, may lead to future policy changes in state statutes.”

Republican challenger Lou Arata

Lou Arata, in his response to the question, noted the large number of gun-related incidents this year.  

“The unfortunate consequence of these are the impact and safety of innocent people, their families and the communities that they occur in. There is also a larger issue which affects every property owner in Meriden and that's the impact these shootings have on the reputation of Meriden and the public perception of our City,” Arata wrote, noting, “Safety is a major component of property values.

“Law Enforcement can't stem the violence alone and they need the cooperation of the local community to assist in policing and monitoring our neighborhoods, staying active and involved,” he said. 

Arata is not a proponent of legislation that further restricts guns, saying the state’s laws are already among the “most stringent, restrictive set of anti-gun laws in the country.” 

“The anti-gun voice is always for more restrictions, less personal liberties and from our Congressional members, the call for absolute confiscation. The truth behind those calls is that they do nothing to make anyone safer. They may make some feel safer, that something is being done by the elected body, but the reality and truth is that a criminal doesn't care about any laws,” Arata said. 

He continued, anti-gun legislation would create a black market for firearms. “Adding more anti-gun legislation will do little-to-nothing to stop the violence,” Arata said. 

He called for a series of options he said would reverse the problem, including making the process of obtaining permits more streamlined for law-abiding citizens, strengthening the state’s Castle Doctrine and making “the penalty laws iron-clad and the perpetrator not eligible for early release consideration.” 

The Castle Doctrine is incorporated into Connecticut law governing the use of physical force in defense of premises. “The law states that a person who possesses or controls a premises, or is licensed or privileged to be on such premises, is justified in using reasonable physical force upon another person when he or she reasonably believes it to be necessary to prevent or stop someone from criminally trespassing,” according to the General Assembly website.

84th House District (Meriden)

Santiago, Cordero

Democratic incumbent Hilda Santiago did not provide answers to these questions

Republican challenger Richard Cordero

Richard Cordero, the Republican candidate seeking the 84th district seat, is not a proponent of new legislation to curb gun violence. 

“Throwing laws at problems doesn’t necessarily make or solve these issues,” Cordero said, describing himself as a candidate familiar with the environments where the violence is occurring. 

“I’m from these streets,” Cordero said, adding he believes the majority of people who resort to violent or criminal behavior wouldn’t do so if they had better access to opportunity and “decent jobs.” 

Cordero proposed improving that access by cutting what he called “red tape” that inhibits business growth in high crime areas. “We need to become more business friendly,” he said. 

Cordero called for the creation of more guidance programs for children who show signs they may be troubled or later become criminally involved. He also believes individuals, especially youth, who see opportunity available will opt to go that route, rather than enter a path of crime.  

“Kids that don’t have guidance get into problems,” Cordero said. “A lot of this violence is created by people not having guidance or opportunity.”


Twitter: @LaurenSellewRJ

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