Assault a cop? Conn. lawmakers want stiffer penalties
The bill would make it a hate crime to assault or "verbally attack" officers because of their occupations
By Dave Collins
HARTFORD, Conn. — Some Connecticut lawmakers are working to stiffen the penalties for assaulting and threatening police officers and judges, in the wake of incidents in Connecticut and around the country.
Rep. J.P. Sredzinski, a Republican from Monroe, is proposing a bill that would make it a hate crime to assault or "verbally attack" police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians because of their occupations.
An emergency dispatch supervisor in Stratford, Sredzinski said he knows many officers who have been verbally attacked. He said he hasn't heard of any targeted violence against local officers, but he cited the 2014 killings of two New York City police officers who were ambushed while sitting in their police cruiser by a man who then fatally shot himself.
"While the law isn't going to prevent someone who is intent on doing that kind of, basically, terrorism, I think this will send a message from the General Assembly that these first responders have families," said Sredzinski, the ranking House Republican on the Public Safety and Security Committee. "My concern is sending that message, that the state of Connecticut discourages any attack on our uniformed personnel."
Other bills would increase the penalties for assaulting "reasonably identifiable" off-duty police officers and correctional officers. Another would increase the penalty for threatening state judges.
Similar proposals have failed in recent years.
There already is a state law that makes it a felony to assault police officers and other first responders. The crime carries one to 10 years in prison. And the state's threatening law carries up to five years in prison for a felony offense and up to a year in jail for a misdemeanor offense.
Rep. William Tong, a Stamford Democrat and co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wants to make it a felony to threaten a judge. He cited the case of a Cromwell man, Edward "Ted" Taupier, who was sentenced last year to 18 months in prison for threatening family court Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto.
Taupier denies threatening the judge and has remained free pending an appeal. Prosecutors said Taupier sent an email to six acquaintances in 2014 that described Bozzuto's home, its proximity to a cemetery and how certain rifles can be fired from that distance.
"There have been a number of threats on the lives of judges, most notably Judge Bozzuto," Tong said. "The bill is necessary to protect our judges from violence."
The number of assaults on police officers in Connecticut has decreased in recent years, from nearly 850 in 2011 to about 620 in 2015, according to crime data compiled by the FBI. No officers in the state have died in the line of duty in several years.
New Haven officer Craig Miller, president of the local police union, said he has seen animosity toward officers escalate in the wake of police shootings of black people on other states that sparked widespread protests over the past few years.
"The attitude is a lot different in terms of disrespecting police officers," he said. "You get some people in the community that do hate cops. They'll punch you. They'll hit you. They'll try whatever they can."
Miller said he supports increasing penalties for assaulting off-duty police. He said he's been off-duty when a person he recently arrested angrily confronted him on the street, including once when he had one of his children with him.
"That's why we carry weapons when we're not working," he said.