By JENNA CARLESSO
April 3, 2010
The penalty for assaulting a police officer, prison guard or other public safety officer could get stiffer under a measure that cleared the legislature’s judiciary committee this week.
The bill would create a mandatory two-year minimum prison sentence for such assaults. It passed unanimously in committee on Monday and will head to the floor of the House of Representatives within the next few weeks.
There is currently no mandatory minimum sentence for people convicted of assaulting public safety officers, including police, firefighters, parole or probation officers, public transit employees, security or prison guards and motor vehicle inspectors. The charge for assaulting a public safety officer is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Those younger than 18 would not be subject to the mandatory minimum.
Some say the bill’s passage couldn’t come at a better time. The same day it made it through the judiciary committee, the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers went into lockdown after a convicted killer allegedly assaulted prison guards. A state legislator said death row inmate Daniel Webb assaulted a captain. Correction department officials have confirmed some details of the attack, but have not identified Webb.
If the bill is signed into law, inmates convicted of assaulting correction department staff members would have to serve at least the mandatory minimum in addition to the prison term they are already serving.
“In light of the attack, I think it’s pretty important,” said Rep. Peggy Sayers, D-Windsor Locks, a co-sponsor of the measure. “People feel like they can get away with these things, and it takes away [officers'] ability to enforce the law.”
This is the first time the bill has been proposed, according to Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety and security committee. It made it through the public safety and security committee, which raised it, earlier in March. It is unclear what kind of fiscal impact it would have, legislators said Friday.
The measure was prompted in part by a rally that unfolded outside Superior Court in Hartford in November.
About 100 officers from several departments called for tougher penalties for attacks on police, following the shooting three weeks earlier of Hartford police Officer Michael Bodner.
Richard Rodriguez, president of the Hartford police union, called the bill’s passage a step in the right direction.
“I think they’re starting to recognize that officers are being assaulted and, as such, they’re victims as well,” he said Thursday. “Other parties are now becoming part of the dialogue to push the issue, hopefully, to fruition.”
About 20 percent of Hartford police officers were assaulted last year, Rodriguez has said.
“There appears to be declining respect for law enforcement. People take public service in general for granted,” said Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts. “I see [the bill] as a good thing.”
Officials from the Connecticut State Police Union also have spoken out in support of the measure.
On average, 714 police officers are assaulted annually in the state, Union President Steven Rief has pointed out, citing data from the Connecticut Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
Sen. Andrew McDonald, a Stamford Democrat and co-chairman of the judiciary committee, said he has been approached by officers throughout the state about the problem.
“It undermines public safety,” he said. “This is certainly worthy of enhanced penalties.”
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