State to review CT police use of military equipment

The Willimantic Police Department's SWAT vehicle given to the town by the Department of Defense.

Willimantic Police Dept.

The Willimantic Police Department\’s SWAT vehicle given to the town by the Department of Defense.

Washington – Connecticut’s police chiefs assured the state’s U.S. senators that the abuses of police authority that occurred in Ferguson, Mo., would likely not happen in Connecticut. But it’s likely Connecticut cops’ use of military equipment to fight crime is soon coming under review.

Images of Ferguson police using war-fighting equipment to threaten those who protested the police killing of a black youth last month sparked a debate in Washington over the future of a Pentagon program that donates surplus equipment to the nation’s cops.

Mike Lawlor, Connecticut Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, said a divided Congress may not be able to agree on reforms of the “1033 program,” that has provided military assault rifles, grenade launchers, night vision equipment, mine resistant and armored vehicles and even a helicopters to Connecticut police departments

So the Malloy administration may also look at placing restrictions on the program or persuading Connecticut police to voluntarily place curbs on the acquisition and use of military equipment, Lawlor said.

“I think that’s the goal,” he said.

Lawlor attended a  meeting on Thursday in New Haven with Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy over the 1033 program.

At that meeting, Connecticut police chiefs defended the program and said state police officers receive intensive training that would avoid the type of violence that occurred in Ferguson.

“Connecticut is not Ferguson,” Murphy said. “Our police departments receive a level of training that wasn’t available in Ferguson.”

Murphy also said some police chiefs would rather be able to purchase non-military versions of the equipment they’ve received by the Pentagon, but don’t have the money.

Yet Murphy said he “thinks there is plenty of room for reform” of the 1033 program, including removing some of types of weapons from the program and ensuring that training “comes along with the equipment.”

Another change would be to give police departments resources to modify the equipment they receive from the Defense Department, Murphy said.

Southern Connecticut State University Police Chief Joseph Dooley, who also heads the Police Association of Connecticut, said “I’m certain that there is going to be a review, but we’re very much in support of the continuation of the program.”

Dooley said Connecticut police receive the best training in the nation, 880 hours of training over six months that includes classes in conflict resolution and crowd control, followed by three months of field training.

“Having a good relationship with the community and good community policing initiatives and trust is at the core of what we do,” he said.

Dooley also said much of the equipment Connecticut police have received from the military, including massive, mine-resistant armored vehicles, have been used in defensive actions, to rescue officers or innocent bystanders from dangerous situations.

“I don’t think you want to put our officers in harm’s way when there is a way to protect these officers,” Dooley said.

The Justice Department announced Thursday it is conducting a sweeping investigation into the Ferguson police department. The civil rights probe will look into patterns of stops and arrests, the use of force, and police training — as well as the treatment of people held in Ferguson’s city jail — to determine whether racial discrimination played a factor in police behavior there.