I have dedicated the last six years of my life to serving the community of Stamford as a police officer. Prior to my law enforcement career, I spent four years serving New York City as a child protection specialist with Administration of Children’s Services. (By comparison child protection was way harder, however, I digress.) Both careers are exhausting and sometimes thankless, but I did each to truly serve my community, protect and make a difference.
I was raised in a predominantly Black/brown and middle class community in New York City by both parents. While growing up, I witnessed first-hand, gun violence, gang violence, drugs and countless other crimes in my neighborhood. Most people in my neighborhood were hard-working citizens who lived in fear of becoming a victim to this criminal activity every day.
Community policing helped change the high crime rate in my neighborhood over time and people began to feel safe knowing police officers were there to serve and protect them from criminals.
The proposed police reform bill in its current state will not improve things in the slightest. If this bill passes you will see an increase in crime. You will see proactive law enforcement cease to exist. And you will see virtuous officers leave the job behind — not to mention how difficult recruiting and retaining high quality applicants will be in the near future. There will be a total paradigm shift in policing as we know it. And this change will be to the detriment of this country.
Several sections of the bill are concerning, specifically the removal of qualified immunity. It is not, as others may be convinced, absolute immunity. In order to have qualified immunity, you must qualify for it. To remove this protection from good, decent and hard working officers means they can be held civilly liable for even the smallest and most frivolous lawsuits. Officers will lose hard earned money just to defend themselves against even the most baseless and ridiculous claims. Officers will hesitate to act on the job for fear of losing everything they own (which will inherently place their lives in immediate unnecessary danger) or fear of public backlash. This hesitation will cost officers, and those we have sworn to protect, their lives.
Other areas of the bill look to take away tools from law enforcement that were granted through federal bills. It seeks, for example, to eliminate consensual searches and forbid police from stopping cars based on equipment violations alone. This will upsurge crime and also rise traffic crashes due to less motor vehicle stops being conducted. This will similarly have an adverse impact on getting illegal drugs and weapons off of the street.
The professional and courteous police officers in the State of Connecticut should not have to pay for the actions of a few bad ones hundreds of miles away. Not one officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain or chief believes George Floyd’s killing was justified. We all condemn that.
Of the thousands of public interactions I’ve had over my short career, not one person has ever filed a complaint and not one time have I ever used excessive or unnecessary force. I represent the majority of police in this state. There are overwhelmingly more of us than there are bad ones.
There are plenty of outstanding police officers in Stamford who really care about the city. We are here to serve, but with the restrictions imposed by this new bill we will be essentially handcuffed in the worst possible way. This bill makes us more susceptible to the liability inherent to this work. It will decrease proactive and community policing measures that have kept the city safe, and it will cause an overall loss of officers that cannot be replaced.
Please, and I speak with the voice of all Connecticut state law enforcement, don’t approve this bill. Let law enforcement officers collaborate with lawmakers on the necessary changes so this can benefit everyone and not a select demographic. Do not let the city of Stamford and the State of Connecticut suffer.
Jermaine Sylva is a Stamford police officer.