The state Senate began debating the controversial police accountability bill early Tuesday evening.
The proposed legislation passed in the House last week after hours of emotional debate.
The bill calls for more oversight of police in our state, including implicit bias training, an inspector general to review the use of deadly force, and the required use of body cameras too, among many other things.
The sticking point has been the subject of a police officer’s “qualified immunity.”
Mike Lawlor, a former lawmaker, prosecutor, and former Governor Dannel Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy said opponents are interpreting some of the bill wrong, including that point of controversy.
“Under no circumstances would that individual police officer actually have to pay any money, but this is in an incentive for towns to do a better job of screening people who want to be police officers, a better job of training them, a better job of supervising them,” said Lawlor.
We confirmed this legal interpretation of the bill with the House Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Steve Stafstrom.
He said he too wants to clear up this point of confusion for police officers. As it’s written, municipalities would continue to cover the liability of officers, under most scenarios.
Lawlor said this bill should be a sigh of relief for officers doing good work in the community, but the Connecticut State Police union said it’s an attack on law enforcement.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a proactive law enforcement any more in the state of Connecticut,” said union Executive Director Andrew Matthews of what will happen if this bill passes.
He said the debate over the police accountability bill has taken a mental toll on law enforcement officers in our state, some of whom made their presence known outside the Capitol earlier in the day.
“We’re all being judged in the court of public opinion and that’s not fair to us as we typically act under law,” said Meriden Police Officer Mike Shedlock, who said the rhetoric around policing has been tough lately.
Couple that with increased violence in cities compared to last year, the officer who’s been on the job for seven years said he’s ready to walk away from his gig if this bill is passed.
Others we spoke to outside the Capitol wanted to see more police accountability, citing issues with police officers they’ve witnessed in their community.
“We know there are good cops, but policing in America is a system that is designed to uphold white supremacy,” said Rhonda Caldwell with the group Hamden Action Now.
She said this bill acknowledges much-needed change, but it’s just a first step.
“What we’re asking for, we shouldn’t have to ask for. We need police who look like us. We need social work on the front lines,” said a woman, who only wanted to be identified as CJ, from the group Black and Brown United in Action.
Officer Shedlock said he’s absolutely open to change, but this bill was too rushed and parts of it are worrisome.
CSP’s union president shares that concern.
“Some lawyers will tell you there’s no effect, it’s (the bill is) better for law enforcement. Those are likely lawyers who are looking to litigating on behalf of their clients to make a lot more money.”
Others said they are worried about the precedent it sets in similar fields like for correction officers.
“You have people out there, good people, who want to be cops that want to make change that want to do something and make a difference, and you’re deterring them from even wanting to do it,” said Sarah Pelletier, a Connecticut correction officer.
But supporters say it’s time for change.