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New Haven’s top cop concerned new police accountability bill could put his officers at risk

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — New Haven’s top law enforcement officer says he’s concerned by the passage of the new police accountability bill on Governor Ned Lamont’s desk right now. Chief Otoniel Reyes says he is concerned for the safety of his ranks and what it could mean for the community.

Chief Reyes told News 8 in an exclusive statement Thursday, he’s been wrestling with the passage of the controversial bill, saying it was done in haste and it was driven by hate and anger instead of a bridge between officers and the communities they serve.

RELATED: State Senate passes police accountability bill overnight during special session

The bill, as it stands, will change how policing is done in Connecticut by requiring mental health assessments and police body cameras. It also bans choke-holds and allows cities and towns to create citizen review boards. All of these policies, experts say, is a positive thing for police.

“I think all of those are good policies that for the most part will be embraced by law enforcement and it would increase professionalism,” legal expert Greg Cerittelli told News 8 Thursday.

But issues of qualified immunity and officer conduct are the two topics of concern with the bill. The changes to qualified immunity under the new bill would allow citizens to sue if their civil rights are violated. Something experts say will cost municipalities an exponential amount of money in legal fees.

“The bill provides that the municipalities defend police officers’ actions. However, if there is a judgment against police, the municipalities can turn to the police officers and seek reimbursement from the officers,” Cerittelli explained.

The bill also puts an end to the ability for officers to ask for consent to search a car and puts an end to officers asking passengers for identification. A fear many believe will deter people from becoming police officers.

The chief closed his statement about the passing of the bill by promising the New Haven community that he and his officers are committed to strengthening trust between police and the community.

RELATED: Law enforcement unions say police accountability bill was rushed, will cause officers to retire early

Read Chief Reyes’ full statement below:

I have been wrestling with a myriad of emotions over the passage of the Police Reform Bill. Mostly, I am frustrated and I am disappointed. Frustrated because we as a nation had a real opportunity following the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of Officer Chauvin; an opportunity to use that tragic and dark moment in our history to galvanize our communities and our police departments.  

I say that because something groundbreaking happened after the death of George Floyd, something that I had not seen in my lifetime, and certainly not in over two decades of being a police officer. After the death of George Floyd, people across our nation and the world, people of every race, culture, socioeconomic status, and political affiliation, all stood up in solidarity to condemn what occurred in Minnesota and against police brutality.  

What was even more notable, was that among the voices of condemnation were numerous police officers and police leaders across the U.S. that very publicly and emphatically condemned the actions of Officer Chauvin.

Here in New Haven, we took it a step further by standing in front of our police department and sending a resounding message to the world that we did not condone police brutality. 

I’m frustrated and disappointed because here in Connecticut, we had an opportunity to lead the way, to be a beacon of hope, to make significant and meaningful changes to the culture of law enforcement while strengthening community-police relations. I am frustrated, not because of the content of the bill, but more so at the undercurrent of divisiveness and the spirit of negativity that led to its passing.

The passing of this bill was done in haste; it was driven and motivated by hate and anger, and it served to drive a wedge between communities and police. I am disappointed at the lack of leadership by some of our elected officials that made decisions largely based on political pressure and misguided emotions, instead of courage and conviction.

The elected officials that were a driving force behind this bill, particularly those that represent the New Haven community, crafted this bill without input from me as the Chief of Police in New Haven. They were in such a rush to pass legislation, that they gave little to no consideration to the negative impact it could have on good police officers that have placed, and continue to place their lives on the line in honorable service to their communities every single day.

The New Haven Police Department has always been at the forefront of positive police reform. We will continue to work on building trust with our community. We will continue to hold ourselves accountable and to maintain the highest standards of professionalism. We are also committed to working hand-in-hand with our community and our community leaders for positive and meaningful change. We must do so together, with a message of hope and a message of unity.

As the great Dr. Martin Luther King stated, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only the light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’

– Chief Otoniel Reyes/ New Haven

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