(Alex Schmidt/Shutterstock) Credit: Alex Schmidt / Shutterstock

A preliminary report from the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force is headed to the legislature with recommendations on who can apply for the new position of inspector general, sanctions for police departments who fail to report the use of excessive force, and mandatory training for police on interacting with persons with disabilities.

The 67-page report was moved forward with little discussion in a unanimous vote during a task force meeting Tuesday afternoon, about four weeks past its statutory deadline of Dec. 31. The legislature is expected to review the recommendations and with the potential to take action during the session.

The task force was created by law in 2019 but the scope of its work was broadened by the police accountability law that was passed in late July after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked protests throughout the state and country.

The 2020 law has been contested by some police and Republican lawmakers including a few who have proposed changes to it now. But Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, has made it clear to the task force that only minor revisions to the legislation, most likely those it recommends, would be taken up this session.

The task force is made up of citizens and law enforcement officials including two police chiefs and several former police officers. Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colangelo Jr. and state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella are non-voting members.

The group was required by the law to submit a preliminary report on the feasibility of police officers obtaining their own liability insurance since the legislation removed “governmental immunity,” allowing citizens to sue for excessive force or deadly force incidents in state court.

The section on governmental immunity only applies to police officers who work in municipal departments since state police are state employees covered by sovereign immunity.

The report approved Tuesday concluded that officers do not need their own liability insurance since they are already covered by the municipality where they work. It also found that liability insurance costs for towns are not likely to escalate with the removal of governmental immunity.

The report included other recommendations that the task force agreed on during their work since July along with a detailed explanation of the listening sessions it held to let citizens directly voice their concerns about police to the task force.

One of the recommendations would allow the state Office of Policy and Management to withhold state funding to police departments, including state police, that do not submit mandated reports to the Police Officer Standards and Training Council on the use of unreasonable, excessive or illegal force committed by officers and incidents when an officer failed to intervene when a co-worker was using excessive force.

Other violations of POST policy that now trigger mandatory reporting include the intentional intimidation or harassment of a member of a protected class and the hiring of a police officer who has been dismissed for misconduct or who resigned or retired while under investigation, the report said.

But the task force pointed out, POST, which crafts police policies and oversees all police training in the state, has no mechanism to actually penalize departments that don’t comply with the newly mandated reporting process.

The task force also recommended that the law be amended to allow people from outside the Division of Criminal Justice to apply for the newly created position of inspector general which will investigate deadly use-of-force incidents and in-custody deaths. The law requires the position to be held by an attorney who already works within the Division, which narrowed the field of candidates and drew concerns because the new unit is meant to provide independent reviews of deadly use-of-force incidents.

The job was supposed to be filled by Oct. 1, but has remained vacant since the Criminal Justice Commission failed to nominate either of the two prosecutors who applied for the position.

The recommendation said the way the statute is written, it “precludes the Criminal Justice Commission from making selections from a larger pool of well-qualified candidates” including federal prosecutors and civil rights attorneys.

It is unclear if a change in the law is required before the application process can begin again.

The task force also recommended requiring POST to create training for police interaction with people with disabilities, which would be mandatory for all police departments in the state.

The report will move forward without a section on recommendations that were considered but failed to be approved by the task force. Those will likely be included in an addendum when the final report is due at the end of the year, members said. Extending the statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit against an officer and mandatory decertification of officers convicted of a felony or drug possession while employed as a police officer were among the suggestions that were not advanced. 

The task force determined that POST already has several mechanisms to decertify an officer for a wide range of conduct.