Connecticut Task Force Proposes Array of Police Reforms

Police lights
NBC Connecticut

After two years of delving into how police do their jobs in Connecticut, a state task force on Tuesday unanimously approved a final report recommending improvements to law enforcement statewide in more than 20 areas including improving interactions with disabled people and limiting traffic stops.

The proposals by the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force will be sent to state lawmakers for their consideration during this year’s legislative session, which is set to begin Feb. 9.

“Hopefully this is the opportunity to open doors for conversation, whether it be legislation or ... dialogue with police departments,” said the task force chairperson, Daryl McGraw, a criminal justice reform advocate who turned his life around after bouts with drug addiction and prison sentences.

“Before this particular task force, to my knowledge a lot of the conversation especially with community members ... is that these conversations weren’t happening,” he said.

One of the top goals was improving how officers interact with people with disabilities, with the task force citing studies showing 30% to 50% of people killed by police have disabilities.

The panel is recommending police departments create their own crisis intervention teams, or partner on regional teams, if they haven’t already. The teams would include mental health experts and social workers to respond to certain calls. More training for officers on dealing with disabled people also is urged by the panel.

The task force also wants a study of 911 calls to determine whether some of them can be redirected to 211, a call program run by the United Way that refers people to health and other services. It also is recommending legislation to implement the federal 988 crisis hotline system and expand behavioral crisis response and suicide prevention services statewide.

Another recommendation is prohibiting officers from stopping drivers based only on minor “secondary” violations including broken headlights, licenses plates in back windows and too-dark window tinting.

Some members of the task force — which includes police officials, reform advocates and a representative of people with disabilities — said they hope such restrictions curb the disproportionate stops of minorities and decrease confrontations where police use force on drivers. State data show Black and Hispanic motorists are stopped at higher rates for vehicle equipment and registration violations, compared with white drivers.

Other proposals by the panel include creating a statewide, standardized reporting process for citizen complaints against police, establishing civilian interview panels in cities and towns for the hiring and promotion of officers and measures aimed at increasing police hiring of minorities.

One of the most contested proposals that was rejected by the task force last month called for creating another panel to consider whether collective bargaining laws should be changed to make police internal investigations and disciplinary actions more transparent to the public.

The task force’s report is the result of two years of meetings and public input sessions. The proposals would add to a host of police accountability laws passed by Connecticut lawmakers and the governor, and in other states, over the past several years in response to police killings of Black people and racial inequalities in the justice system.

Lawmakers and civil liberties advocates called the 2021 Connecticut legislative session historic for criminal justice reform. Bills that passed included allowing the erasure of many criminal convictions, limiting the use of solitary confinement and other isolation in prisons and aiming to make jury pools more diverse.

On Jan. 1, a new state law took effect that imposes more limits on when police can use deadly force.

Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, a member of the task force, called compiling the report “a heavy lift, a major task.”

“There’s a lot of good in here and we should be proud of the work that’s in here,” he said. “And there are some things in here that I disagree with, but I nevertheless respect the majority opinion of the task force members. And I don’t disagree with them because of the goal. I think the goals in all cases were noble.”

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