With a short legislative session kicking off in Connecticut, lawmakers are under pressure to solve controversial issues swiftly. Concerns over crime top the list, and the proposed solutions have an all-too-familiar ring to them. Across the state, how legislators answer the question, “What should we do about crime?” may have less to do with rational reason and more to do with partisan affiliation. Here, as elsewhere, Republicans are focused on accountability; Democrats are looking to increase services.

Both views have merit — indeed, they are two sides of the same coin — but one way to emerge from the morass of entrenched views is to consider something new. Republicans and Democrats usually agree that one of the most effective ways to combat crime is through community policing, in which police officers patrol neighborhoods on foot and get the opportunity to develop relationships with community members to improve public safety. To do this effectively, police officers need two things: time and trust. Time, because the minutes they spend in neighborhoods are minutes they are not pushing papers behind a desk; and trust, because members of the community must feel they are partners with police in the crime-reduction strategy. With more time and more trust, police officers can target the serious offenses topping everyone’s priority list. To facilitate both, changing state law to require citations to be issued in lieu of arrest for low-level offenses, except in rare circumstances, is one step forward the Connecticut Legislature should take.

Citations in lieu of arrest, also known as delayed arraignment, are court summons issued to accused misdemeanants for which the maximum sentence would be less than a year in jail or less than a $1,000 fine. They still appear before a judge on the day specified on the citation; the only difference is they don’t await arraignment behind bars. One study found 79.5 percent of people issued citations show up for their court date, though if not, they are guilty of “failure to appear” and a warrant is issued for their arrest.

Under current law, the discretion of when to issue a citation falls entirely on the charging officer. The New Haven Police Department has guidelines on when officers should issue citations, though the link to these guidelines is no longer accessible, and no other jurisdiction in the state appears to have any publicly available standards officers should follow on when to issue them.

Not only does the process need statewide standardization, citations in lieu of arrest should be the presumption for most misdemeanors. First, issuing a citation saves an officer a significant amount of time. One study found arrests take an average of about 86 minutes, while issuing a citation takes less than 25, saving officers over an hour per incident. Each is another hour officers can use to target serious offenders and keep communities safer.

Second, every citation issued is another low-level offender who doesn’t end up behind bars awaiting arraignment or trial. Even short stints in jail can have cascading effects, with one study finding a person jailed for two to three days is 17 percent more likely to reoffend; after eight to 14 days, that figure jumps to 51 percent. Jail time can mean the loss of a job that pays the rent or mortgage, impacted child custody agreements, lost educational opportunities and a host of other collateral consequences. When those are the consequences for, say, stealing $20 worth of groceries, it’s clear how arrests for low-level offenses can degrade trust in police. By requiring officers to issue citations for petty offenses, communities are more likely to trust and eventually partner with officers to help get truly serious offenders off the streets.

It’s time for state leaders to get past partisan arguments and think creatively about the steps needed to empower both police and communities to combat crime more productively. By providing an avenue for diverting low-level offenders away from arrest, citations issued for all misdemeanors except in rare circumstances would allow police officers to target serious offenders with focus and precision. As lawmakers consider how to quell crime effectively during the 2022 legislative session, establishing a statewide presumption of citations in lieu of low-level arrests should be on the table.

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