Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that he is earmarking $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to fight gun violence and fund crime-prevention programs in the state.
The money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act will be used to help pay for community outreach programs, regional law enforcement task forces and specialized police positions and fund real-time access to data from rapid-DNA and ballistics testing.
“We'll be able to track with the forensics — track shell casings, track where this gun came from, where this car came from and be able to do this on a regional basis,” Lamont said during a news conference at Hartford's Saint Francis Hospital.
James Rovella, the state’s commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said the funding will allow for the opening of a 24-hour bullet-casing testing center at the state crime lab in Meriden and a mobile testing kiosk that can travel to crime scenes. There will also be two rapid-DNA testing sites, one in Meriden and another in Waterbury, he said.
Lamont and other state officials defended using coronavirus relief money for the effort, noting that violent crime has surged across the nation during the pandemic.
Marc Pelka, the administration’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said the level of serious crime in Connecticut is about half of what it was in the 1990s. But he said that there has been a recent uptick in violent gun crime, auto theft and overdose deaths in many communities in recent months.
Lamont said the move is part of a comprehensive effort that also includes using relief money to give young people better access to summer jobs, learning programs, camps and other recreation.
“It's not all about law and order,” Lamont said. “It's also about understanding what our population has been through over this last year and a half, especially our young people.”
Andrew Woods, who runs the violence intervention program Hartford Communities that Care, said he's grateful for the one-time influx of federal dollars, but called on the state to also come up with more long-term sustainable funding for his and other violence prevention initiatives.
“What I'm saying is that there are countless people who are in need of these services and again we are under-resourced," he said.