Fraternal Order of Police endorses Fairfield Republicans following controversial police bill

State Rep. Brian Farnen (R-132), Republican candidate for the 133rd District assembly seat Joanne Romano-Csonka, FOP President John Krupinsky, State Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) and State Rep. Laura Devlin (R-134) in a video announcing the FOP endorsement of Fairfield Republicans running for state office.

State Rep. Brian Farnen (R-132), Republican candidate for the 133rd District assembly seat Joanne Romano-Csonka, FOP President John Krupinsky, State Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) and State Rep. Laura Devlin (R-134) in a video announcing the FOP endorsement of Fairfield Republicans running for state office.

LaBella, Joshua /

FAIRFIELD — A recent endorsement from the Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police puts one of the state’s largest police unions squarely in the corner of Fairfield Republicans running for state office.

The 1,800-member state chapter of the nation’s largest law enforcement organization released a video last week endorsing state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28, state Rep. Laura Delvin, R-134, state Rep. Brian Farnen, R-132, and Joanne Romano-Csonka, the Republican candidate for the 133rd District state assembly seat.

John Krupinsky the president of the CT FOP and a Danbury police officer, said the four endorsements were just some of the more than 180 the organization had put out as a result of the recent police accountability bill.

State Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-133, who was the only member of the Fairfield delegation to vote for the bill, was not endorsed.

Krupinsky said all Republicans in the state legislature voted against the bill, thereby supporting law enforcement, while only four Democrats voted nay. He said the three Democrats seeking reelection who voted against the bill also received endorsements from the FOP.

“I would loved to have endorsed another 25 or 30 had they voted the right way,” he said of Democrats. “But the FOP will always endorse, back up and assist those that support us.”

McCarthy Vahey said the protests and demonstrations over the summer were indicative of the country crying out for a conversation about police and government accountability — Fairfield included.

“There were and are still some necessary conversations, and I certainly have expressed to our police department, who I respect tremendously, the desire to continue to work together to address some issues and concerns that they have,” she said. “I think there’s always room for improvement.”

In a video released alongside the endorsement, Krupinsky said the accountability bill would put his members and the public at jeopardy, raise taxes and impact police recruitment. He delivered those comments while flanked by the four endorsed Fairfield candidates.

“It will make it much more difficult for police officers to take guns and drugs off the street,” he said. “The unfunded mandates in this bill are going to cause taxes to go up. Numerous departments are reporting that they can’t get people to come and take the test — recruiting is almost impossible at this point.”

The bill

Connecticut’s police accountability bill passed in July amid widespread public demand for police reform. Protests were held across the country this summer after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The bill includes numerous measures, but largely creates a new inspector general’s office to investigate deadly police shootings, allows municipalities to form civilian review boards with subpoena power and requires officers to step in when they witness a coworker using excessive force.

One particularly controversial part of the bill, slated to take effect next July, is a provision that will limit when officers can invoke governmental immunity, making it easier for citizens to pursue civil lawsuits against police officers in state court.

Proponents of this provision have said lawsuits will only be able to go forward if officers violated someone’s constitutional rights without a good-faith belief they were following the law. They also note municipalities will still be required to indemnify officers unless an officer’s action is found to be intentional and malicious.

But critics of the bill have said the provision could have unintended consequences, discouraging police from doing their jobs out of fear of frivolous lawsuits, according to a report from the New Haven Independent.

A provision that prevents officers from asking motorists for permission to search their car without probable cause is another facet of the legislation Krupinsky said will make officers’ jobs harder. A similar section bans police from searching a person based solely on the person’s consent without other probable cause. Both pieces of the bill went into effect on Oct. 1.

Candidates’ reactions to the bill

The Fairfield Republican candidates have been outspoken about their desire to revisit some aspects of the bill.

The Republican candidates’ biggest critiques of the bill centered on how the bill was crafted and the changes to qualified immunity and the consent searches.

“The qualified immunity comes heavily loaded with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of caution in regards to how it may impact law enforcement officials ability to do their job,” Hwang said, adding that police officers frequently talk about having split-seconds to make decisions. He said the result of the bill may be the hindrance of proactive law enforcement.

Devlin said the changes to qualified immunity open the door for frivolous lawsuits. She also said banning of consent search is an issue Fairfield police officers have brought up with her before.

“This legislation ... it sort of paints everybody as being a bad cop,” she said. “I don’t think that’s fair and I don’t think that’s right.”

Farnen said it also included some unfunded mandates.

“In essence, you are defunding the police, because the money needs to come from somewhere,” he said. “You’re either going to raise taxes or you’re taking money from the budget to use it for other purposes.”

Hwang, Devlin and Farnen agreed there were also good parts of the bill.

“There is deescalation and community training language in here that I think is really good,” Farnen said. “There is also banning chokeholds in most circumstances and, in other ways, I thought the independent review process actually didn’t go far enough.”

As with any bill of its size, McCarthy Vahey said there are some components that she was more excited about than others. She said she thinks there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding the bill, particularly about qualified immunity, which she said isn’t removed.

“The police officers who are members of my family have said to me that they certainly have no tolerance for people who are wearing the uniform and are committing those willful, wanton and negligent acts,” McCarthy Vahey said. “That’s the only time when there would be a change.”

McCarthy Vahey said she would fully expect and be a part of any adjustments that need to be made if some of those concerns prove true. She said the consent search concerns are more complicated than what’s being portrayed and there needs to be more conversations about what banning it means for police.

She said the police have reasonable questions about funding for behavioral health testing and some of the accreditation needs.

“(Those are) things that we can advocate for at the state level to make sure they have the tools they need to provide the kind of standards that I know our police department wants and we’re already working toward,” she said.

Working together

Hwang, the ranking leader of the Public Safety Committee, said there have been longstanding dialogues between law enforcement and the legislative sub-group. He said the committee members were ready to have the necessary dialogue about social justice and police reform but the bill never came before them.

He called the bill process rushed and said it had very little public input, adding the bill did not incorporate major shareholders, such as law enforcement.

“For us to run it through in a special session, without the due process and input for everyone to vet and evaluate everything, is troubling to me,” Hwang said. “So when the police union came out and supported us that talked about it, it is important. It is not a Republican or Democratic viewpoint. It is ultimately addressing the process.”

Devlin said more time should have gone into crafting the bill, which she says puts the police officers at risk and compromises communities’ safety.

“This is important policy, and the appropriate work wasn’t done,” Devlin said.

Farnen said the Fairfield delegation was excited to have real police reform, but was disappointed it did not come from a bipartisan approach.

McCarthy Vahey said the bill is the result of many hours of negotiations, “despite what information is out there.” She said there was a robust bipartisan conversation during the crafting and voting process.

No matter how the new rules and regulations pan out, she said there new conversations about law enforcement are needed. She said the conversations have to be based in respect and mutual understanding on both sides of the aisle.

“I’m interested in solutions and I think, right now, we need to focus on solutions that work and that recognize the reality that certain vulnerable communities, particularly our minority communities and people of color, have faced — and also acknowledging what we’re hearing from the police,” she said.