Law would limit po­lice use of force

Pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would boost trans­parency

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Em­i­lie Mun­son

Fol­low­ing two con­tro­ver­sial po­lice-in­volved shoot­ings in New Haven and Wethers­field, state Sen. Gary Win­field has drafted leg­is­la­tion to in­crease po­lice trans­parency and limit some uses of force.

A New Haven Demo­crat, Win­field has held closed­door meet­ings with po­lice groups and their lob­by­ists to draw up th­ese pro­posed changes, which would greatly in­crease the avail­abil­ity of pub­lic in­for­ma­tion af­ter po­lice use force.

He de­cided to act af­ter a Ham­den po­lice of­fi­cer and Yale Univer­sity cop shot and in­jured a 22-year-old un­armed black woman who was rid­ing in a car in New Haven with her boyfriend, who was sus­pected of be­ing in­volved in an armed rob­bery. That shoot­ing on April 16 caused hun­dreds of peo­ple to protest and drew calls for a “thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion” from Win­field and Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore, D-New Haven.

Just four days later on April 20, Wethers­field po­lice shot an 18-year-old driver at a traf­fic stop, who later died.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to make any­thing hap­pen on this front in a short pe­riod of time, but I just think I’m go­ing to make as much of an ef­fort as pos­si­ble to force the con­ver­sa­tion in this build­ing,” said Win­field, chair of the leg­is­la­ture’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

Though his ideas never re­ceived a pub­lic hear­ing, Win­field be­lieves his amend­ment will re­ceive a vote in the Sen­ate next week.

The leg­is­la­tion spec­i­fies that body camera videos shall be made pub­lic “im­me­di­ately” af­ter the of­fi­cer and

his at­tor­ney has an op­por­tu­nity to re­view them, in cases where po­lice force is used or an of­fi­cers’ be­hav­ior is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

Win­field’s pro­posal also would re­quire all po­lice use-of-force in­ci­dent re­ports to be sent to the state Of­fice of Pol­icy and Man­age­ment start­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2020. Th­ese re­ports in­clude in­for­ma­tion about sit­u­a­tions in which po­lice be­hav­iors could cause phys­i­cal in­jury to the pub­lic, like shoot­ing a gun other than in train­ing, strik­ing a per­son, us­ing pep­per spray or a Taser. Win­field also adds the use of a choke­hold to this list.

Sim­i­larly, the leg­is­la­tion states when­ever an of­fi­cer’s use of force causes a death, the state’s Divi­sion of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice will is­sue a re­port on that death — in­clud­ing the vic­tim’s name and race and de­tails about the in­ci­dent — to the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. Af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a state pros­e­cu­tor, a re­port about whether the use of force was war­ranted will also be made pub­lic on­line, not just shared with state and town of­fi­cial as cur­rent law says.

Im­por­tantly, Win­field’s pro­posal also would up­date state law about when po­lice use of force to make an ar­rest is jus­ti­fi­able. Cur­rent statutes say po­lice can use phys­i­cal force if they have a rea­son­able be­lief that some­one com­mit­ted an of­fense un­der law.

Win­field wants to add an­other pro­vi­sion to this spec­i­fy­ing that the kind of force an of­fi­cer chooses to use also be rea­son­able given the cir­cum­stances. He called this a “fun­da­men­tal change.”

“To give a hy­per­bolic sit­u­a­tion, the of­fi­cer is cor­rect in us­ing force but the force the of­fi­cer used is not cor­rect, so just be­cause you’re life is in dan­ger doesn’t mean you can get a tank to go run some­body over,” said Win­field. “So to my mind, it need to be a two prong ver­sus a one-prong test (on use of force).”

The pro­posal would pre­vent po­lice from shoot­ing at a flee­ing motor ve­hi­cle dur­ing a pur­suit or in­ten­tion­ally putting their body in front of a flee­ing car.

Fi­nally, Win­field’s leg­is­la­tion would con­vene a task force to rec­om­mend other changes to in­crease po­lice trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity. The task force, ap­pointed by the leg­is­la­ture, would ex­am­ine po­lice in­ter­ac­tions with the men­tally dis­abled, the fea­si­bil­ity of of­fi­cers is­su­ing re­ceipts at traf­fic stops in­clud­ing the rea­son for the stop and de­mo­graphic in­for­ma­tion on the civil­ian stopped and the state po­lice on po­lice pur­suits, among other is­sues.

Rep. Joe Ver­ren­gia, D-West Hart­ford, said us­ing this task force to look at po­lice pur­suits would be re­dun­dant be­cause a work­ing group ex­am­in­ing po­lice pur­suits is al­ready be­ing con­vened.

But Ver­ren­gia, a for­mer cop and chair of the leg­is­la­ture’s Pub­lic Safety and Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, oth­er­wise sup­ported Win­field’s pro­posal.

“In gen­eral, it’s a step in the right di­rec­tion. With the re­cent in­ci­dents in the state, it makes us want to see if we can do things bet­ter,” he said. “This isn’t an anti-po­lice bill.”

Rep. J.P. Sredzinksk­i, R-Mon­roe, a dis­patcher of first re­spon­ders, had sev­eral con­cerns about the leg­is­la­tion, in­clud­ing whether re­leas­ing body camera videos too soon would jeop­ar­dize po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions into crimes and per­son­nel be­hav­ior. He thought the gov­er­nor should have an ap­point­ment on the po­lice trans­parency task force and in­ci­dent re­ports should be sent to the state Depart­ment of Emer­gency Ser­vices and Pub­lic Pro­tec­tion.

“Very few good bills are rushed to com­ple­tion,” said Sredzin­ski. “This bill is a statute that would im­pact ev­ery municipali­ty, ev­ery law en­force­ment agency and we need to make sure we get it right. So I un­der­stand the tim­ing of it and I un­der­stand the re­sponse, but I am con­cerned it has not been able to go through the process.”

Paul Me­lan­son, Farm­ing­ton’s po­lice chief and chair of the Con­necti­cut Po­lice Chief As­so­ci­a­tion’s leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee, said they are eval­u­at­ing this pro­posal.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the re­spect and op­por­tu­nity we have been pro­vided by Sen. Win­field,” Me­lan­son said. “We look for­ward to the col­lab­o­ra­tion in or­der to make Con­necti­cut polic­ing the model for the rest of the na­tion.”

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