HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The Connecticut State Senate has voted on a series of bills including telehealth, capping insulin costs and absentee ballots. But, just like last week in the State House of Representatives, the most controversial item on the agenda was police accountability bill that stretched the session into overnight hours.
In the wake of national protests following the death of George Floyd, state and national lawmakers are working to address public outcry with police reform.
The police accountability bill was debated into the overnight hours as it has the potential to make some sweeping changes for law enforcement. Proposals on the bill, that passed early Wednesday morning in a 21-15 vote, include:
- Changes in the membership of the Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST), which provides certifications and trainings to police officers in Connecticut. POST will be reconstituted to include persons impacted by the judicial system and towns of various sizes.
- POST will issue an annual report on police department efforts to recruit minority officers, and it will develop new crowd control policies, require implicit bias training, and ensure that police disciplinary records are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.
- Uniformed police officers must have their names and badge numbers readily visible on all outer garments.
- Cities and towns can create civilian review boards, which will have subpoena power through their local legislative bodies (i.e. Board of Selectmen).
- Body and dashboard cameras will be mandatory for any officer interacting with the public.
- Chokeholds, strangleholds and other tactics restraining oxygen and blood flow are banned, and officers will have whistleblower protections to report excessive use of force.
- A new Independent Office of the Inspector General will conduct use of force investigations.
Governor Ned Lamont said at an event Wednesday afternoon that he’s prepared to begin signing all four bills as early as Thursday morning.
Much of the debate centered around changes to qualified immunity – a change that now allows citizens to sue officers when they feel their civil rights are violated.
That change goes into effect July 2021.
“In order to not have the benefit of qualified immunity, a police officer’s conduct has to be wanton, willful, or malicious, which is a very high standard,” said Sen. Martin Looney, (D) Senate President Pro Tem.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) issued a statement Wednesday afternoon regarding the bill:
CPCA is thoroughly studying the bill to understand its impact to Connecticut Police Officers, who are on the front-line faithfully serving our communities and protect all citizens of the State of Connecticut. We anticipate working closely with the legislature, when it is back in session, to examine these policies and suggest improvements on numerous aspects of the bill. There are concerns that parts of this bill may inhibit our ability to attract and retain quality police officers. Also, there is significant case law that ensures constitutional policing – particularly as it relates to use of force, governmental immunity, and the ability of officers to take dangerous criminals off of our streets. We look forward to further discussions with the legislature on these important topics.CPCA Statement
Melvin Medina, the public policy and advocacy director of the ACLU of Connecticut issued a statement regarding the decision to pass the bill:
“Ending police violence will not be solved by any one bill, but the bill passed out of the legislature today is a start. The legislature must take stronger action in future sessions to end systemic racism and violence in policing, and policymakers must recognize that their work has only just begun. We applaud the majority of legislators who, in an act of solidarity with their Black and Latinx colleagues, voted to better protect the public from police violence. To the legislators who instead voted to shield the profession of policing from accountability, do better.”
For nearly his entire life, State Senator Gary Winfield (D-New Haven) has pushed for what he calls justice in the Black community: “You want justice? You have to fight for it,” he said.
Senator Winfield said protests after the death of Floyd around the country and in CT prove the demand for change is nearly everywhere. “Today, the Senate took a step to right the wrongs of the past,” said he said.
State Treasurer Shawn Wooden also chimed in saying, “The bill, which now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature, will lead to investments and improvements in training resources for law enforcement, an increase in transparency and trust between police and the neighborhoods in which they serve, and greater accountability for officers who abuse their power.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) said he was concerned the bill will have a negative impact on law enforcement. He said, “99% of police officers do great work. What this bill is gonna do is cause police officers to retire and leave or not go into the force.”
“I think you’ll see municipal costs go way up, I think you’ll see insurance costs go way up. I think you’ll see less police,” Fasano added.
The Republican leader said the low threshold written in the draft bill will allow people to sue officers in state civil court very easily and will lead to an onslaught of lawsuits against towns and police.
“This is going to put police officer assets and a police officers reputation at risk,” said Fasano.
He admitted there are many good parts in the reform bill that have bipartisan support: the citizen review boards, subpoena power of those boards and an Inspector General (IG) to investigate police-involved incidents.
The police union representing officers in the capital city says it is disappointed, saying in part:
“We asked to be part of the conversation as we agree that change is needed. This request was ignored.
This Bill will empower criminals as they use this to their advantage against law enforcement and the public.
Elected officials that voted for this Bill will feel the effects at the voting polls in the upcoming elections.”