Lawmakers make late push for more police accountability
A handful of Democratic legislators are making a last-ditch effort to advance a bill that would expedite investigations into police misconduct and strip accused officers of pay while inquiries are underway.
The late push comes in the wake of a fatal police shooting in Bridgeport on May 9 that left an unarmed 15-year-old boy, Jayson Negron, dead. His death has sparked protests in the city.
“It’s really sad that it’s taken the death of a young person for us to be here; however I do think it’s important that we’re all standing here together,” said Subira Gordon, executive director for the state Commission on Equity and Opportunity. “Now it’s time to take the next step. That next step is holding those that kill our black and brown kids accountable.”
“Let’s be honest, two weeks ago, this bill wasn’t in existence,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven. “This bill probably was not going anywhere. So I am disturbed that I have to, and that my colleagues have to, come here and do this in order to get heard. But we are very willing to do so.”
Winfield said Tuesday’s press conference was meant to bring more media attention to the bill before he meets with legislative leaders to discuss its path forward. He said it is “time for people to pay attention.”
The bill, backed by the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, initially stalled when questions arose about two key provisions:
- A requirement that the Division of Criminal Justice investigate all allegations of excessive force against police officers, and complete those investigations within 15 business days
- A requirement that all police officers under investigation for use of excessive force be placed on unpaid leave
Nonpartisan analysts say the bill would cost the state $2.2 million each year, primarily because of the increased number of cases the Division of Criminal Justice would have to take on and the resources that would be required to complete those investigations in the allotted time.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane, the division’s top administrator, said the bill’s timetable would be “impossible” to handle. He said it would require “more people, more investigators and more resources.”
“With regard to the 15-day period, sometimes it takes that long to get results of an autopsy back,” Kane said. “There are some cases in which it’s necessary to get toxicology screenings, and the results of toxicology could take a while.”
The bill’s provision to place officers under investigation on unpaid leave has generated controversy as well, which the legislators who spoke Tuesday acknowledged. Employees are placed on paid leave while under investigation in nearly all public-sector jobs.
Connecticut ACLU Executive Director David McGuire said police officers should be held to a different standard.
“These officers are given the ultimate power – the use of the power of deadly force,” McGuire said. “As we’ve seen, they have used it, in some cases in ways that have been inappropriate. So it’s very different than someone working for state government pushing paper, for example.”
The bill stipulates that an officer cleared of wrongdoing in an investigation would be compensated for any days of unpaid leave.
Several changes have been made to the bill since it received approval from the Labor and Public Employees Committee on March 9. Initially, the bill would have required preliminary investigations to be completed within five business days. Nonpartisan analysts estimated this would have cost the state an additional $5.6 million each year.
The bill’s sponsors remain open to further changes, even with only three weeks remaining in the legislative session. Winfield said the bill must receive approval from the legislature’s Judiciary and Appropriations committees before it can be taken up on the House floor.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said the bill must address accountability for each department’s leadership, not just its officers.
“I don’t want officers to feel like this is an attack on them, because it’s not,” Porter said. “I understand, and I believe, that a lot of this stuff stems from improper training, insufficient training, inadequate training.
“And that means that we have to take a look at the administration that has command over these officers – the chiefs, the assistant chiefs, the deputy chiefs, these people should be held to a level of accountability as well,” Porter added.
But trying to find common ground with the state’s police departments has been challenging, the advocates said.
“To be honest with you, we have been met with a lot of resistance,” Winfield said. “I’ve been on record in the past as saying that, particularly the police chiefs association, comes to the building starting off as a ‘no.’ We don’t start off talking about how we can work together.”
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association declined to comment Tuesday.
Setting a hard deadline for all investigations to be completed should be off the table, Kane said. But, he added, he supports the broader idea of accelerating investigations in whatever way possible as long as it does not jeopardize the ability to find the truth.
He said part of the problem is a lack of resources for many of the state agencies that play a role in the investigative process. Ensuring those agencies have adequate funding, he said, is one way to speed up investigations.
Kane also said he favors setting deadlines for specific benchmarks in an investigation rather than a blanket deadline for completion of the investigation.
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