HARTFORD, CT — Police accountability is lacking in Connecticut, a group of mostly Black and Puerto Rican lawmakers said Tuesday.
That apparently wasn’t obvious after a Bridgeport police officer shot and killed a 15-year-old boy last week, so Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, and Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, and other lawmakers held a Legislative Office Building press conference Tuesday to remind their colleagues.
Jayson Negron, 15, and Julian Fyffe, 21, were in a stolen car that officers followed. An officer fired his weapon and Negron was killed. The matter is being investigated State Police Western District Major Crime Squad. Bridgeport Police do not have dashboard or body cameras, but a cellphone video surfaced showing Negron on the ground moving following the shooting.
“What happens in our communities is something that should not happen — but when it happens we need information,” Winfield said. “We need things like body cameras and dash cams.”
Winfield said they’ve been met with a lot of resistance in their effort to make police more accountable to the communities they are supposed to serve and protect.
A bill that would require the investigation of excessive force by police officers has been sitting on the House calendar since the end of March. It also still needs to go through the Judiciary and Appropriations committees.
“This is a very pressing issue,” Porter said Tuesday, adding that people in urban communities are being “over-policed and under protected.”
Porter said a lot of the early complaints about the legislation were related to the suggestion that Connecticut was trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist in Connecticut.
“In Bridgeport, we had a 15-year-old, unarmed child shot and killed,” Porter said. “We have to, as a state, take seriously how we hold police officers accountable.”
David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut, said the way that Negron’s case has been handled “shows how broken our police accountability mechanisms are here in Connecticut.”
He said the Bridgeport Police made a decision not to have dashboard cameras and not to have body cameras, so the opaqueness following Negron’s shooting should come as no surprise.
Av Harris, a spokesman for the City of Bridgeport, said the police are working on obtaining dashboard and body cameras and are “all in favor of getting more information.”
Porter said the bill, which is still a work in progress, says if an officer is involved in a shooting or incident of excessive force then they should be put on unpaid leave and an investigation needs to be, at least partly, done within 15 days.
“We are people who matter,” Porter said.
She said the 15-day time frame is the push they need to get investigations done quickly. She said some of these investigations have been dragging on for years.
She said this is not an attack on police officers, but that she rather believes some of the issues stem from a lack of adequate training.
Winfield said they will continue to talk to their leadership about pressing forward with the legislation.
“Let’s be honest, two weeks ago this bill was in existence and this bill was probably not going anywhere,” Winfield said.
He said he’s “disturbed” he had to hold a press conference in order to be heard.
He said just because Connecticut hasn’t had any national attention for police shootings of minorities doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.
“We can’t rest on our laurels and say well we’re not Ferguson,” Winfield said. “Ferguson wasn’t Ferguson until it was Ferguson.”
He said what the lack of action on this issue tells him is Connecticut’s “legislature just simply does not hear black and brown folks in this state.”
He said the leadership in this building needs to move the bill.
However, the bigger hurdle for the legislation seems to be the state’s fiscal woes.
The fiscal note from the Office of Fiscal Analysis says it would cost about $5.6 million per year for the Division of Criminal Justice to investigate all cases where a peace officer uses physical force. It’s estimated the bill would result in at least 1,000 additional investigations annually and require the hiring of 49 additional staff.
The state has currently implemented a hiring freeze and is in the process of sending out layoff notices to executive branch employees.
The unions representing police officers said the bill would infringe on their collective bargaining rights because it ignores due process by putting the officer on unpaid leave. The bill would also require the firing of an officer convicted of any crime.
Officers have been found to be fully exonerated after being wrongly accused of crimes, the unions said in their testimony to the Labor and Public Employees Committee. They said this bill would punish them before they were even found guilty of excessive force.