While portions of the new police accountability bill just passed by the General Assembly will take effect immediately after the governor signs it into law, some sections will actually take years to go into effect.
The first order of business will be for the Police Occupational Standards and Training Council (POST) to create new training manuals and guidelines for police departments to follow, including implicit bias training and mental health assessments.
Then, a key part of the bill that calls on officers to intervene and report excessive use of force by their colleagues will go into effect this October.
“I think that’s a great thing,” said Sgt. Otis Baskins, a police officer who declined to share which department he works for in Connecticut. “We have to hold people accountable. We have to be able to stop people from doing things they shouldn’t do or could hurt somebody.”
An inspector general who will review cases of excessive force will be nominated by November.
“Their main focus will be investigating whenever there’s a death in police custody and determine whether that was a result of use of force and whether that use of force was justified,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Democrat from Bridgeport who chairs the judiciary committee.
In April 2021, police departments will receive new guidelines for justifiable use of deadly force. An officer whose life is in imminent danger can still use a gun to defend themselves or a third party. However, they can also be held accountable for not finding a reasonable alternative.
The most controversial part of the bill, called qualified immunity, was supposed to start this year, but now won’t go into effect until July 1 of next year. The top Republican in the Senate calls the date change a gimmick.
“That’s where policy goes to the wayside, logic goes to the wayside, what can I do to this bill to get it passed,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano.
Fasano questioned why that section of the bill couldn’t be worked on during the full legislative session next year, given the emotions and questions surrounding it.
Police officers would be personally liable in cases where they’ve knowingly violated a person’s constitutional rights. Supporters say the language simply takes protections away from bad officers.
“Only where they have maliciously and wantonly violated someone's constitutional rights without a good faith belief that they were complying with the law when they did so. That's the only instance in which an officer would face personal liability under this bill,” said Rep. Stafstrom. “It’s really not going to change much or subject the average officer to any more liability than they face today.”
However, critics argue the state law already does that.
“You commit a crime as a police officer, you go to jail. There’s no immunity,” Fasano said.
Some who wear the badge say the provision will make police officers second guess their every move for fear of being sued.
“The only thing this bill has done is chase away the good cops,” said Sgt. John Krupinsky, the president of Connecticut’s Fraternal Order of Police and a member of the Danbury Police Department.
Krupinsky said he and many of his members will leave the force over this bill.
“I can’t afford to place 41 years of a pension in jeopardy. Just can’t do it,” he said. “They keep talking about this is designed to get rid of bad cops. Well, I’ve done it right for 41 years, and I’d loved to do it for 45 but I just can’t take those chances.”
Baskins, who joined the force 14-years-ago in part because his sister was the victim of a deadly crime in New Haven, said he’s not ready to turn in his badge but he does worry that the bill takes away his ability to be a proactive police officer.
“The biggest problem is my safety. I can handle a lawsuit but I want to be able to go home. I want to be able to protect the people that I said I was going to protect, that I gave an oath to protect and it’s going to limit me from doing that. I cannot be the proactive police officer that they want me to be,” Baskins said.
He explained that ability is taken away in this bill because police officers can no longer ask for consent searches.
“That is going to stop those police officers who know their communities, who know the bad actors, from asking that question at all and searching the vehicle,” Fasano said.
Fasano predicts gun and drug crimes will rise.
“I wouldn’t say crime’s going to go up. I would say crime’s going to go unsolved,” said Baskins.
Baskins said officers will also be barred from asking for identification from passengers in the car they pull over. He has a big problem with that, too.
“I can have a domestic violence victim inside the car as the passenger. I could have another passenger in the car that could be the offender. If I can’t run their information, I won’t be able to know that a violation of a protection order just occurred in front of me,” he explained.
A new provision, that could be crucial in qualified immunity cases, won’t go into effect until 2022. All cities and towns are required to equip their officers with body and dash cameras.
Meanwhile, new accreditation standards will take effect in 2024.
Gov. Ned Lamont said he intends to sign the bill into law, acknowledging that there are strong emotions on both sides.
“There’s some anxiety with some of the police. We’re there doing everything we can to champion our police. You have done amazing work on behalf of the state of Connecticut. I’d like to think that this bill reinforces that and makes sure that you’re, their police-community relations are stronger than ever," Lamont said.