The General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee gave the thumbs up Tuesday to a bill that increases the amount of training police officers receive regarding the use of excessive force, but they removed a section that would have mandated that officers wear body cameras.
Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, who worked on the bill with the leadership of the Public Safety Committee, said they excluded the section on body cameras after discussions with law enforcement.
The committee already approved a bill that would create a pilot program for body cameras. He said some of the concern with the section was related to the difficulties of this year’s budget. If the bill mandated the purchase of body cameras it would have had to go through the Appropriations Committee.
“It’s not that I don’t believe body cameras aren’t an important tool for the purposes of accountability of police officers, and as well to vindicate and validate the actions of a police officer,” Coleman said. “I think body cameras at some point in time will be utilized by police officers in order to justify some acts.”
Coleman said his main concern Tuesday was to help move the bill forward.
Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, a former police officer, said there is a place for body cameras in the future of police work, but “it’s a game changer in the profession.” He thanked Coleman for agreeing to move the section from the bill until police departments can get experience with the cameras and develop policies.
“Depending on the state you’re in, there’s no common policy,” Verrengia said.
Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk, who chairs the Black and Latino Caucus, said they are still in negotiations over the bill.
“I think at the end of the day we’re going to have a bill that everyone is going to get on board with,” Morris said.
Morris said that in light of what is happening in Baltimore, where a 25-year-old black man died in police custody, and what happens to black and brown men every day, getting police to wear body cameras is “critically important.”
“We don’t need a Ferguson, we don’t need a Baltimore here in Connecticut. But without body cameras that potential exists everyday,” Morris said.
Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, said some of his best friends are cops, but he didn’t have to go all the way to “Ferguson or North Carolina or Baltimore to make a decision about what I think about law enforcement and excessive use of force.” He recalled the beating of a man in Bridgeport that was captured on video.
The Judiciary Committee, which Coleman chairs, is working to resurrect a billthat would have introduced penalties for police officers who try and stop members of the public from recording their activities on the job.