GREENWICH — The town’s police union has spoken up again in the upcoming legislative election, giving its endorsement to Republican state Senate candidate Ryan Fazio.
Fazio is challenging incumbent Democrat state Sen. Alex Kasser in the 36th District, which includes all of Greenwich plus portions of Stamford and New Canaan. The endorsement from the Silver Shield Association came after the union’s executive board met directly with Fazio.
“We are confident that Ryan is the right person to represent our values and livelihood in Hartford,” the union said in a statement. “Ryan Fazio is a Greenwich native who attended the public schools and has lived, worked and volunteered here most of his life. He understands our community and the important contributions that the Greenwich police have woven into the fabric of our town.”
Fazio celebrated the endorsement on Tuesday.
“I feel proud to have the trust of the rank-and-file members of the police who serve and protect this community,” he said. “Our police are empathetic and love our community.”
Fazio has criticized the police accountability bill passed by the legislature over the summer and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont.
This is only the second endorsement ever made by the union; the first came last month when it endorsed Republican state representative candidate Kimberly Fiorello, who is running in the 149th District in Greenwich.
Both candidates are Republicans, but it was not a party-line endorsement, Silver Shield President Louis Pannone said. Instead, he tied the decision to the accountability law, which Fiorello and Fazio say they would have voted against.
“He is all for trying to change the accountability bill because he saw the flaws in it,” Pannone said. He added that because the union had endorsed Fiorello in the state House race, members felt it was “proper” to endorse a state Senate candidate, too.
In the statement, the union called the law “rushed through” and said its members were frustrated “by the lack of meaningful input from law enforcement, and by the deaf ears of those legislators who chose not to listen to our concerns for a properly crafted bill to benefit everyone.”
The bill was created in response to national protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and the shootings of several other Black men and women by police across the country.
It mandates the use of body and dashboard cameras, creates an inspector general’s office to investigate complaints of police misconduct, bans chokeholds in most circumstances and requires officers to get involved if they witness brutality by colleagues.
But it also removes what is known as qualified immunity and could make it easier to pursue litigation against individual officers. That has been a controversial part of the law, drawing criticism from police officers throughout the state and Republican officeholders.
“Ryan Fazio is pro-police and public safety and has pledged to support all law enforcement by seeking to overturn or modify those portions in the bill that negatively impact law enforcement officers, the public and the communities that we faithfully serve,” the union said. “It has become a matter of urgency for us to take a vested interest in our representation in Hartford, and Ryan is the person who will deliver it. Ryan knows the police are ‘the good guys’ and sees through the out-of-control nationwide anti-police movement that wants an educated public to believe otherwise.”
Beyond working to change the qualified immunity portion of the law, Fazio said that if elected he would also look to address parts that he said “prohibit proactive policing,” including barring consensual searches at traffic stops and overly restrictive regulations on the use of force by officers.
“That is something that can put officer lives in danger and force officers to have to pull back,” Fazio said.
Pannone said the union did not reach out to Kasser before endorsing Fazio and said she had not reached out to them before voting to approve the bill.
“We didn’t go reaching out to candidates at all,” Pannone said. “These are people who came to us.”
On Tuesday, Kasser said she had reached out to the police department, through Chief of Police James Heavey, about the accountability bill.
“I’ve been corresponding with Chief Heavey on this issue since June,” Kasser said. “He has always been my primary point of contact. Prior to its passing and since the bill became law, I have wanted to hear concerns about the bill and work to improve it together. It is a shame that this piece of civil rights legislation has been misrepresented and politicized.”
On Tuesday, Heavey said he received one phone call from Kasser the day before the vote in the House and that he advised her “that I had many concerns about the bill” and recommended she vote against the bill. He said she did not ask for advice before the vote.
Weeks after the vote in the state Senate, Heavey said Kasser again contacted him, this time in an effort to meet with the Silver Shield Association and he forwarded her email to the union. Heavey said he believed the union then declined to meet with her.
“I did send her a few emails about the concerns I and many other chiefs and municipal leaders had about the negative consequences of the bill,” Heavey said.
He added, “While I strongly support police accountability, this bill is not the way to accomplish better policing.”
There are two other legislative races in Greenwich. State Rep. Harry Arora, R-151, is running against Democrat Hector Arzeno, and State Rep. Stephen Meskers, D-150, is running against Republican Joe Kelly. Arora voted against the bill, and Meskers voted for it.
Pannone said it was unclear whether the union would offer any more endorsements.
The endorsements this year broke precedent for the union, which was founded in 1958, and until this year had never offered an endorsement in a political race.
When the union endorsed Fiorello last month, Heavey issued a statement that he and his administration were not involved in the matter and that the decision was solely the choice of the association.
“The Greenwich Police Department will remain entirely politically neutral in their approach to elections,” Heavey said at the time. “The Greenwich Police Department serves all the residents of the Town of Greenwich, State of Connecticut, and the Unites States, regardless of political affiliations. Police officers are free to be members of political parties and can be active in those parties as private citizens. A member of the Silver Shield Association can choose to endorse a candidate in their free time, so long as it does not affect their duties as a Greenwich Police Officer.”
On Tuesday, GPD Public Information Officer Capt. Mark Zuccerella said Heavey’s statement from last month stood when it came to the Fazio endorsement.