Twice in four years, the first homicides in New Haven were sons of Laquvia Jones.
On Tuesday, Jones stood at the state Capitol with the governor and mayors of New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Waterbury — cities that are violent outliers in a state with one of the lowest crime rates in America — to call for focused limits on the availability of bail for gun crimes.
“If this was in place, my last one would not have been killed,” Jones said. “He would still be here with us today.”
A 10-point proposal developed by a working group of four Democratic mayors active in the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is a political departure, coming after a dozen years of reforms that, combined with falling crime rates, have shrunk the prison population in Connecticut.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the proposal is not a repudiation of efforts that have tried to address the root causes of urban violence with community intervention and diversions from prison to rehabilitation, especially for young offenders. Nor, he said, does it take away from the need for investment in the cities.
“We need to do all of that and more,” Bronin said. “But the group gathered here today is also here to say that we also need to make sure that there are more severe consequences for those who are repeat serious offenders, who are engaged in gun violence.”
A key provision would allow prosecutors to petition judges to order defendants arrested on any serious firearms offense to post 30% of any bail directly with the court, limiting the ability of bondsmen to bail out defendants at pennies on the dollar.
It effectively is a workaround to give judges the right to curtail bail for repeat gun offenders in a state with a constitutional guarantee to bail before trial. Another proposal would require rapid revocation of probation or parole in serious gun cases.
The court system would be required to create dedicated “gun dockets” in the Waterbury, Fairfield and New Britain judicial districts in addition to the existing ones in Hartford and New Haven.
Bronin and Mayors Joseph P. Ganim of Bridgeport, Justin Elicker of New Haven and Neil O’Leary of Waterbury said the proposals are driven by data that indicate an outsize percentage of gun crimes in their cities are committed by young men free on bond or out of prison on probation or parole.
“We share a number with you that will probably be as shocking to you as it was to us,” Bronin said. “In Hartford, 39% of those arrested for fatal and non-fatal shootings last year were out on bail and they shot somebody.”
“The statistics speak for themselves,” said O’Leary, who was Waterbury’s police chief before becoming its mayor.
Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin said “roughly 80%” of all homicides and non-fatal shootings in Connecticut occur in Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Waterbury. In the past two years, Griffin said, Hartford and New Haven have combined for 113 murders and 494 non fatal shootings.
Essentially, the shooters and their victims come from the same tight circles: They are young men with criminal records, often known to each other. Griffin said a study in Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury found that both 70% of convicted shooters and 70% of shooting victims were convicted felons.
“The sobering reality is that gun violence in Connecticut is largely driven by a small number of high-risk, repeat felony offenders in the 18- to 33-year-old range,” Griffin said.
The mayors repeatedly said their efforts, the product of a working group that convened last October, are more surgical than broad-brushed.
“These changes we’re proposing today are very narrowly focused on the individuals that we believe have the highest likelihood of engaging in violence,” Elicker said. “It’s very narrowly focused, and this group has spent hours and hours and hours tailoring this to ensure that it only focuses on those individuals that are highly likely to recommit violent offenses.”
Gov. Ned Lamont, who has proposed his own package of gun-violence legislation with the support of the four Democratic mayors and many lawmakers, said he supported the mayors’ package.
Last month, Lamont proposed increasing funding for violence intervention programs, banning the sale of all firearms to anyone under 21, strengthening a flawed ban on untraceable “ghost guns,” outlawing the open carry of firearms, tightening a ban on and limiting gun purchases to one a month to discourage illegal resales. He also proposed closing loopholes that allow the continued sale of variants of the AR-15 and other firearms banned 30 years ago.
“This is just one piece of the puzzle,” Lamont said. “And we tried very hard over the last two weeks to put together a puzzle to make your communities safer and make sure that the No. 1 civil rights issue of our day — your right to walk home safely — we do everything we can to preserve that.”
No legislators participated in the press conference, but key lawmakers have been briefed on the proposals. It was not immediately clear who, if anyone, would sponsor the legislation. But Lamont said he had no doubt the proposals would be filed as bills and subjected to a public airing.
Jones was one of several mothers of shooting victims at the press conference, members of a sorority that grows each year.
“This needs to be in place to send a message that it’s not acceptable to continue to be a violent offender and just come home and walk free to cause more harm and danger to our community,” Jones said.
Her sons died four years apart: Dashown Myers on Feb. 23, 2020 and Dontae Myers on Jan. 1, 2023. Dashown was 18; Dontae, 23.
“We can’t keep living like this and losing our children,” she said.