Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, is moving forward with legislation aimed at overhauling policing in Connecticut even as Gov. Ned Lamont took some steps and the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force voted Tuesday to study its preliminary recommendations.
Winfield said Lamont’s executive order that bars state police from using chokeholds and requires troopers to de-escalate incidents is a stop-gap measure until state laws can be changed.
Lamont made the changes and several others related to increasing accountability and reducing the use of force by state police by executive order. The order does not apply to municipal police departments and could be overturned by future governors, Winfield said.
“The executive order is temporary, no matter how you look at it,” Winfield said. “I’m looking to install more protections in the law that will be difficult to change, even if a new governor comes in.”
Winfield, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, has vowed legislative action as quickly as possible even as the task force is working toward addressing longer term changes. “There are things in certain moments that you can do that you can’t do otherwise, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to do,” Winfield said.
Lamont said Monday,he “didn’t want to wait another minute” to address police accountability as state residents were still staging protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. A group has been camped outside Bridgeport Police Department for days demanding the termination of the officer who killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron in 2017.
The task force is working on longer range issues such as how to implement an independent process for investigating police wrongdoing and how to change the culture of policing. The group agreed Tuesday to “further study” the concepts in a preliminary report issued last week and to assign subcommittees to flesh out the recommendations in the draft document.
The task force was created as part of a 2019 police accountability law that also provided more transparency by requiring the release of body and dashboard camera videos and prohibited officers from stepping in front of vehicles after two highly publicized officer-involved deaths within days of each other.
The group is now seeking funding to hold at least five community listening sessions throughout the state and to hire a consulting firm to mold policies based on national best practices, said task force member Ken Barone, project manager for Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy.
The draft document was based on comments from task force members who were asked during a two-and-a-half hour meeting June 8 to provide what police accountability issues they felt were the most important to address.
The preliminary report included close to two dozen priorities such as mandatory body cameras for all officers and changes to the internal affairs process to include independent investigations with community involvement.
The group also wants an independent body to investigate deadly use of force and excessive use of force incidents and for the state to conduct a “patterns and practice” investigation when a police department is accused of civil rights violations.
Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo and Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, who is the president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, both agreed that it would be possible for the state’s Police Standards and Training Council to “de-certify” officers who are likely to fight termination through state labor laws.
“We need something separate from getting terminated for their job,” Mello said. “We need to take away their police powers.”
POST could formulate a list of “de-certifying offenses” that would make sure that unfit officers don’t get their jobs back, Mello said.
Other priorities include changing the culture of policing to a guardian model rather than a warrior model; ensuring that each officer commits to 500 hours of community engagement activities in urban centers before receiving certification; and providing early intervention for officers through assistance, correction and discipline.
The task force also wants to evaluate the effectiveness of less-than-lethal-force tools and reform the citizen complaint process.
The group acknowledged that the legislature is likely to take action on some of the issues in the coming weeks. But through extensive community input, including in-person listening events and surveys, more recommendations are likely to be added to the priority list, Barone said.
Subcommittee members and chairs are expected to be chosen and may meet before the entire group meets again on June 30.
Winfield said he’s in the process of talking to stakeholders as he crafts his legislation. But he expects the work of the task force to augment what he can get passed during a special session slated for this summer.
“No matter what we do, there will still be things they will need to keep an eye on,” Winfield said. “There is a role for the task force.”