Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Steve Stafstrom (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — After nearly three hours of questions by Republicans, the House passed police accountability legislation Wednesday that would change the way law enforcement and prosecutors release information after a serious use-of-force incident.

Two Democrats, Reps. John Hampton and Ronald Napoli, Jr., joined Republicans in voting against the measure, which passed 86-60.

CLICK TO VOTE ON SB 380: An Act Concerning Mental Health And Wellness Training And Suicide Prevention For Law Enforcement Officers

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SB 380 requires the release of body or dashboard camera video within 96 hours of an incident upon request. It’s a massive change in the way most police departments release information.

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate a week ago. It reshapes the way police handle use-of-force incidents and fatalities by requiring certain details to be made public on request within a set period of time, and by prohibiting police from firing into fleeing vehicles.

In the House Wednesday, Republicans questioned Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, on nearly every aspect for nearly three hours, pointing out that certain provisions could hamstring officers during life-threatening situations.

“We shouldn’t be dictating what they can and cannot do to keep our communities safe,” Rep. J. P. Sredzinski, R-Monroe, said.

The session started with calls for reshaping the way police deal with use-of-force incidents after several controversial police-involved fatal shootings. In one of the most recent cases, the city of New Britain was required by prosecutors to wait more than a year to release dash camera footage of the fatal shooting of a Bloomfield man who was trying to flee officers.

At least three bills seeking a limit on the time allowed to conduct investigations into deadly use-of-force cases were introduced early in the session. Each was dead in committee by early April.

But two dramatic police shootings that month in New Haven and Wethersfield sparked protests and reinvigorated calls for more police accountability. The legislation was ultimately brought up as an amendment to another bill in order to see action this session.

Under SB 380, police would not be allowed to shoot at or into fleeing vehicles unless there is an imminent threat of death to another person. Police would be prohibited from positioning themselves in front of a fleeing motor vehicle and must notify other agencies when they chase a car across city lines.

The bill also requires police to release any body or dash camera video within 48 hours of the officer who was involved reviewing it or 96 hours after the incident if the officer has not reviewed it.

The bill adds the use of chokeholds and pursuits to the list of incidents they report, in addition to any incident that is likely to cause serious injury. Starting in 2020, the reports would be provided to state authorities with a summary of the race and gender of those involved and how the force was used, and any injuries suffered.

The bill also creates a task force to study police transparency and accountability and requires the Police Officer Standards and Training Council to study and review the use of firearms by officers engaged in pursuits. Connecticut State Police also would have to adopt and update regulations regarding police pursuits every five years.

In the case of a fatality involving police, the bill calls for the Division of Criminal Justice to release a status report identifying the person who died and giving details of how they died within five days of the determination of cause of death.

Republicans questioned Stafstrom about who determines the cause of death and how the report could be filed five days after an incident if the cause of death had not yet been determined. Stafstrom said the intent of the bill was to get the information out to the public quickly and to quell internet rumors or inaccurate media reports.

“When some of these incidents occur in the community, it’s often the legislators who are fielding the calls,” Stafstrom, House Chair of the Judiciary Committee, said.

David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, celebrated the bill’s passage and released a statement:

“Information is power, and this transparency bill is a necessary first step toward placing power over police squarely where it belongs: with the people,” McGuire said. “No one should die or be harmed at the hands of police, and police should not be able to hide the number of times they hurt, kill, or threaten people. Transparency about police uses of force will not bring back people killed by police violence, but it is a critical tool for exposing police violence and enabling Connecticut to take democratic control over police.

“Too often, it has taken public pressure and legal action for police to release body or dashboard camera footage they do not like,” McGuire continued. “By requiring police to release body and dashboard camera footage within 96 hours of police hurting someone, with privacy protections for bystanders and victims of police violence, this law takes a critical step toward making police body cameras tools to serve the public instead of police PR goals.”