Greenwich Time (Sunday)

What Conn. learned about the politics of crime in 2022

- HUGH BAILEY Hugh Bailey is editorial page editor of the Connecticu­t Post and New Haven Register. He can be reached at hbailey@hearstmedi­

What people think about crime doesn’t often mesh with reality.

Polls show majorities believe that it’s rising when it’s falling. They think they’re in danger when they’re not. Most suburbanit­es in Connecticu­t do not experience street crime on a regular basis, if ever, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t scared of it.

All that has led to decades of public policy that attempt the same remedies over and over, which we know are of limited value and have devastatin­g side effects. This country locks up its citizens at a rate that would make embarrass authoritar­ian regimes. Black people are far more likely to be imprisoned, which has nothing to do with who is more or less likely to commit crimes. The effects on families, neighborho­ods and entire cities of enmeshing millions of people in the criminal justice system to no discernibl­e purpose has been devastatin­g.

And yet the push from certain quarters whenever crime arises as a political concern is to do more of the same. Longer sentences, less mercy, and forget about second chances. We keep doing what we’ve always done, even as the result of those policies is that crime remains stubbornly high in this country compared to other rich nations, albeit lower than it was a generation ago.

The least we should expect from political leaders is an honest depiction of reality. Don’t tell us crime is rising when it isn’t. Don’t try to make people scared for your personal gain. And don’t pretend to care about places that really are beset with street crime even as you ignore them when it’s not politicall­y advantageo­us.

All of that, though, is usually too much to ask, and so we had a major push from the ultimately fruitless campaign of state Republican­s this year to focus on crime as a major issue. It was part of a national movement, and it wasn’t a purely partisan issue, as one of the major proponents of the idea that everyone is always in danger was the Democratic mayor of New York City (still one of the safest places in America, by many standards).

The fruitlessn­ess of those Connecticu­t efforts, however, is worth noting.

There are many reasons Republican­s keep losing in Connecticu­t. There are more Democrats here, to start with. The direction of the national parties does not favor the GOP, and Connecticu­t’s highly educated populace works in favor of the party that’s not pushing weird conspiracy theories all the time.

Crime, then, was sort of a lastditch effort for Republican­s in search of an issue. They likely would have lost anyway, but their efforts to scare the state into voting out incumbents didn’t work. That’s an important marker.

Connecticu­t was something of an outlier in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests in 2020 in that it took real action aimed at police overreach. The accountabi­lity enforcemen­t measures it passed were among the few concrete actions nationwide that passed before the inevitable backlash led politician­s to shy away from anything that could change the status quo.

As such, the Police Accountabi­lity Act could have been ripe for a backlash of its own. As the same time, Connecticu­t passed its version of a Clean Slate law, which wipes out the criminal histories of people who committed certain nonviolent crimes after a number of years out of prison without any other problems. That could have been a problem for proponents, but it never developed.

The Clean Slate rollout has not been free of problems. Implementa­tion has been slowed by what state leaders say are technology concerns and other issues, leading to what advocates fear could be a lack of trust that the law will ever be put into place as intended. Regular updates from the state on the status of implementa­tion should be expected.

But while there were some hints that Clean Slate would be used against incumbents who voted for it, nothing much developed in that regard. Proponents should take note — supporting policies that help people, rather than continuing the same failed “tough on crime” policies that generate noise year after year, doesn’t have to be electoral poison. There is room, in a place like Connecticu­t, for policies that try a different approach.

Toward the end of the gubernator­ial campaign, with Gov. Ned Lamont seemingly in control of the race, his opponent attempted in a debate to link the police accountabi­lity law to the then-recent killings of two Bristol police officers. Lamont had one of the few moments when his affability seemed to falter, calling the attack the “cheapest grandstand­ing imagined.”

He was right. There was no link, and it was only desperatio­n that led anyone to think otherwise.

So-called “tough on crime” policies don’t reduce crime. If they did, we’d be the safest nation in the world. Rejecting those policies has always seemed electorall­y dangerous, because fear is such a powerful weapon. Connecticu­t’s experience in 2022 could show there is a better way.

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