Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Brigeport, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, began explaining the the police accountability bill at 1:19 a.m. last Friday. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

“I’ve had enough.  I’m done!”

Sue Hatfield. Paul Bass / New Haven Independent

If you haven’t yet, I fear you may soon hear these words uttered by many of your friends, family members, and neighbors who work in law enforcement.  That’s because a growing number of our front-line police officers are tired of being used as a political piñata.  Understandably, many are considering ending their careers in law enforcement early.

These are the same officers who run into burning buildings, work holidays away from their families, and respond to scenes that are too graphic to describe.  And they do this all for us.

As the wife of a law enforcement officer I can tell you that, yes, they knew what they signed up for when they began their careers years ago.   But they also did so believing that the public appreciated their work and sacrifice.

H.B. No. 6004, dubbed “An act concerning police accountability,” applies sweeping changes to all levels of law enforcement in Connecticut.  It was literally introduced by legislative leadership in the dead of night this past week, effectively stifling thoughtful debate and public scrutiny.  Then, in the early morning hours (while choosing not to do the same for themselves), the House voted to strip police officers of the peace of mind of being protected from frivolous lawsuits.

That piece of mind is often referred to as “qualified immunity” and is a decades old legal doctrine that has historically provided police officers with protection from civil liability when acting within the scope of their duty.  Any fair-minded person with experience in law enforcement will tell you that the bill that seeks to remove this protection goes too far and undermines our front-line police officers.  It’s also worth noting that if this legislation becomes law, a person who serves on, say, their local inland wetlands commission will continue to enjoy this benefit but the men and women who work to keep our communities safe will now not have those protections.

As we all know, the political momentum to undertake this legislation springs from the horrific death of George Floyd who died at the hands of the Minnesota police.  However, its champions conveniently overlook the fact that the officers involved in that incident are all facing criminal charges.  Clearly, and appropriately, qualified immunity is not protecting them from those criminal charges.

Yet in Connecticut we see scores of politicians rushing to enact this legislation that can only be described as a solution in search of a problem.  Not surprisingly, the result is that good police officers are feeling abandoned by the very communities they are sworn to protect.  But I believe they are not truly abandoned and that the majority of Connecticut residents appreciate their service and have their backs — even if many of the politicians in Hartford do not.  Further, I am convinced that given the opportunity, the public will support them.

Fortunately, that opportunity is now before us.  This ill-advised bill passed the House last week but must still pass the Senate, which is likely to happen sometime this week.  The governor has signaled his intention to sign it if it gets to his desk.

Let’s show these officers that we have their backs.  If you know and respect a friend in law enforcement and want to do something tangible to show them that you appreciate their service, I urge you to make two phone calls.

First, call the Senate Democrats office at (860) 240-8600 and tell them you oppose HB 6004.  Tell them that the bill is worse than just being unnecessary; it has the very real potential of prompting good officers to take early retirement and discouraging young men and women from choosing a career in law enforcement.  All of which only serves to make our communities less safe.  If you happen to be represented by a Democrat senator, please ask that that message be given to that person, directly.

Then call that friend in law enforcement and tell them that you appreciate and value their service.  And stress to them that they are definitely not abandoned.  On the contrary, we have their backs.

Sue Hatfield was the 2018 Nominee for Connecticut Attorney General.  She is currently a Senior State’s Attorney and Vice Chair of the Connecticut Republican Party.  The views expressed here are entirely her own and do not represent the views or opinions of her employer or any other affiliated agency. 

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