The Senate plans to take up two bills Thursday aimed at curbing bad behavior by police. One would strengthen the state’s racial profiling reporting law, while the other make police liable if they stop someone from videotaping them.

At state Capitol press conference, Sen. Martin Looney, D- New Haven, said the goal of the latter bill is to ensure the rights of members of the public to photograph or record police so long as they don’t obstruct their work.

Looney proposed a similar bill last year after New Haven residents were arrested for photographing police there. It was also inspired by a 2009 incident during which Father James Manship was arrested by East Haven police for videotaping them while they were harassing a Latino business owner. Last year’s bill passed the Senate but was never raised in the House.

Though the bill wouldn’t prevent police from stopping someone from recording them or confiscating a camera, it does give citizens some recourse if that occurs, Looney said.

“We believe that the right to document police in the public performance of a public duty is a reasonable provision,” he said.

Under the bill there are exemptions allowing for police to stop a photographer. For instance if an officer believes it’s necessary in order enforce the law, protect public safety, preserve a crime scene, or protect the privacy of a victim.

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Looney dismissed concerns that the exemptions could be interpreted by police to stop a photographer in almost any circumstance. He said it was clear that the bill was designed to address situations like Manship’s, where he was standing to the side and not interfering with the police.

“Obviously the police can always allege that there was interfering, make all kinds of allegations in order to try to defend against a lawsuit, but what this would do is provide a remedy to seek damages for this type of behavior,” he said.

He suggested that if the bill is signed into law it will have an effect on the behavior of police.

“Police will be put on notice as part of the their training that you’ve got to be careful,” he said.

Racial Profiling

The other bill the Senate plans to address will strengthen an existing law requiring police departments to turn over traffic stop data to the state to determine whether they are racially profiling motorists.

Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Eric Coleman said the bill makes a number of modifications to the current law, which few police departments actually comply with. He said part of the reason police have trouble complying with the law is a standardized method for recording the data does not exist.

Coleman said he plans on offering an amendment to the bill that would require a standardized method be created.

The bill also gives the Office of Policy and Management the responsibility of compiling and analyzing the data. Currently the African American Affairs Commission is tasked with handling the traffic stop data but Coleman said the group has neither the staff nor the resources to address it.

Coleman’s amendment would also enlist the help of community organizations in an advisory role. It creates an advisory board to work along with OPM to discourage racial profiling.

Senate President Donald Williams said it’s important to crack down on racial profiling in the state.

“Racial profiling diverts limited law enforcement resources away from finding actual criminal and national security threats,” he said. “… It also diminishes trust between law enforcement and affected communities and, in conjunction with that, violates fundamental rights of fairness and equality.”

Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, the bill’s proponent in the House, agreed.

“When we talk about racial profiling we’re talking about whether or not citizens of this state are treated equally by the police who represent this state,” he said.

Holder-Winfield said the bill will not only help the community, but the police who interact with members of the community who may not trust the police.

“Sometimes that lack of trust comes from a misperception of how police operate. This bill clarifies the relationship between the police in this state and the citizens of this state,” he said.

Manship, who also attended the press conference, praised both bills as proactive efforts to combat the violation of civil rights. He said the federal Justice Department is currently investigating 17 departments nationwide for such violations, including Connecticut’s East Haven department.

“Both these bills strengthen transparency. When things are transparent, it strengthens trust and builds trust between the community the police are called to serve and protect,” he said.