Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced a new urban violence plan Friday calling for three special gun courts with judges and experienced prosecutors assigned to handle the cases in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.
One judge in the Superior Court in each of the cities will oversee a special docket for all cases involving possession or illegal use of a gun, starting on July 10. All gun-related cases will be automatically referred to the gun court in an attempt to ensure swift justice, Rell said.
Surrounded in her office by the public safety and prisons commissioners, the chief court administrator, and a prosecutor in the chief state's attorney's office, Rell promised a coordinated effort to target "hot spots" in the cities and increase supervision for 125 "high-risk" youths who are on probation. Phase two of Rell's plan will involve family and community outreach to address the root causes of the violence and provide employment, athletic and recreational opportunities in the cities.
"Let me be clear: the first order of business is to assure public safety and stabilize neighborhoods rocked by violence," Rell said.
But Rell's two opponents in the race for governor slammed her plan, saying she needs to pour more money into helping drug-addicted criminals, summer jobs for youth and job training for those released from prison.
"This is a plan I would expect to see from the governor of Mississippi - in the 1950s," said New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. "Rell has done nothing to support the African American community of Hartford."
DeStefano, who is running against Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy in the Aug. 8 Democratic primary, said that Rell has cut funding for programs and offered "not one dime for after-school programs, mentoring or summer jobs."
But Rell's spokesman, John Wiltse, countered that the state budget for the new fiscal year, which starts today, earmarks $850,000 for the Leadership, Education, Athletics Partnership, known as LEAP, that specifically targets youths aged 7 to 14 in the New Haven area. The budget also sets aside $4 million for urban youth employment statewide, $1.2 million for neighborhood youth centers, and $1 million for additional in-home services for troubled youths..
DeStefano's spokesman, Derek Slap, said Rell's proposed budget called for eliminating the entire $850,000 for LEAP, but the Democratic-controlled legislature restored the money.
"It's odd the governor would boast about funding something she originally proposed eliminating," Slap said Friday. "This is typical Gov. Rell. She tries to bankrupt LEAP, and then six months later, she says, `I've given LEAP $850,000.'"
Malloy also hammered the plan, giving Rell a grade of D+ on crime for her first two years in the governor's office.
"We gave her a D+ instead of an F because she hasn't been a victim yet," Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol.
Saying he was "completely underwhelmed" by Rell's proposals, Malloy said that he cut crime by 60 percent since becoming mayor in 1995 by hiring more police officers on the street.
"It's not whether we can lower crime in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport. We can," Malloy said. "It's a question of whether the governor has the will to do it. She doesn't."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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