The state Senate unanimously passed legislation Tuesday morning that addresses how the state handles excessive use of force by law enforcement, recording of police activity by private citizens, police training, and recruiting.
The bill, a priority of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, aims to avoid situations like those in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and elsewhere, where unarmed black men were killed by police officers. The bill would also equip every police officer in the state with a body camera to record their activities and makes the state or town that employs the officer liable if they interfere with private citizens who record police activity.
“Cops are not immune to the frailty of humanity,” Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said Monday. “There are going to be cops that had a bad day. There are cops that didn’t get trained as much as they should have.” He said the state needs to implement a policy that deals with that and that’s what the bill does.
Winfield and the Black and Puerto Rican caucus were concerned the bill wasn’t going to get called Monday and its future in the House remains uncertain.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said early Tuesday morning that there’s agreement in concept on the bill, but there are still concerns.
Legislative leaders spent most of the day Monday behind closed doors with the Malloy administration debating the details of this bill and the governor’s “Second Chance Society” proposal, which deals with how ex-offenders are treated.
Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said he’s confident that if the bill is called it will pass the House.
“The tragic deaths of unarmed individuals at the hands of police officers must stop,” Coleman said. “This bill aims to educate and empower our police officers to more effectively engage with the communities they protect. It also protects these officers from potentially false allegations. For too long law enforcement and the citizens they protect have stood apart. This bill begins to build a bridge so we can finally improve relationships between police and their communities.”
He said the bill also helps address the number of minority police officers and increases training for cultural competencies.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association said they support the legislation, which now includes developing a training model for the use of body cameras. Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore has said he wanted to make sure there is some sort of model policy for using the cameras.
The state will borrow $15 million to purchase the cameras and to manage storage of the video data for the first year.
The footage from the body cameras will be available under the state’s Freedom of Information laws, except in certain circumstances.
The cameras, according to the bill, can’t be used to record communications with other law enforcement personnel, an encounter with an undercover informant, or a person undergoing a medical or psychological exam. It also doesn’t require an officer to record a scene involving sexual abuse or a domestic violence incident.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, helped broker the deal to get the legislation passed. The bill included his initiative to make sure police departments can be held liable if they interfere with a private citizen recording their activity.
Looney cited the shooting of a fleeing suspect in South Carolina as a reason the policy is needed. He said that if it hadn’t been for the video recorded by the private citizen, the officer may have gotten away with the fatal shooting. Instead he was fired and faces a murder charge.
Looney drafted the bill a few years ago in response to arrests of New Haveners who were filming police. Father James Manship was arrested in 2009 while recording cops harassing a Latino store owner in East Haven. Also, a Quinnipiac University student was arrested in 2010 for filming the arrest of another student.