The clock is ticking on the implementation of a new standard for the use of deadly force as laid out in the police accountability law passed in July.
But Judiciary Committee members came no closer Monday to moving forward with a bill that makes a few changes to the law and pushes the training deadline back several months.
“What really concerns me is that now we’ve spent an hour and a half on this,” Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said Monday. “We have to get this bill through the House and the Senate in the next month and if we don’t get this bill out of committee today, the clock will run out.”
The portion of the police accountability law that deals with changes to the standard for when a deadly use of force is justified will go into effect on April 1 unless the committee takes action soon, Winfield said.
Instead of voting on the bill with the proposed revisions, legislators spent 90 minutes debating a seven word amendment put forth at the last minute by Republicans who contend that the changes could leave officers questioning if they should intervene in a potentially deadly situation.
“When an officer is in a stressful situation and there is turmoil and people are agitated, the officer has to make split second decisions,” Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said.
“You have to put yourselves in the shoes of that officer with that officer’s knowledge,” he added. “We can only make decisions based on what we have or what we know. We have to give officers some leeway.”
The amendment was tagged on to the section of the bill that defines the use of deadly force by a police, correction or parole officer as justified “only when his or her actions are objectively reasonable under the circumstances.”
The amendment sponsored by three Republican senators and seven Republican representatives added the words “known to the officer at the time” to the end of the sentence. The debate on the amendment ran along party lines with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
“We’re holding police officers to an unrealistic and unfair standard in looking at everything in the cool light of day when they are making decisions in the heat of the night,” Dubitsky said.
The Senate was called into session before the committee could vote on the bill.
Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, a member of the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force and the Chair of the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, had recommended changes which included that the person upon whom the deadly use was used possessed a deadly weapon or “dangerous instrument.”
But Winfield and several Democratic members of the committee rejected that change out of concerns that items such as cell phones could be called “dangerous instruments” by police.
The other changes Mello requested — which made the final version of the bill — removed the words “substantial” and “exhausted” from the section on when an officer can use deadly force. The proposed language now reads “after he or she has reasonably determined that there are no available reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly force.”
Mello had also recommended pushing the implementation date back from April 1 to Oct. 1, 2022 to give the Police Officers Standards and Training time to review deadly use of force changes with trainers who then would go back to their police departments and train officers.
“Our goal is to improve Connecticut’s use of force statute that you enacted last July,” Mello said. “We are now faced with the task of training police officers to operate on this new legal standard, which represents a change in the long-standing principles for which every Connecticut police officer has previously been trained.”
The police accountability law drew fire from police and Republicans last summer when it was debated during a special session. The law made sweeping changes in holding police accountable for deadly use of force incidents and mandated more training in de-escalation tactics and more use of body cameras.
The legislation was prompted by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May which sparked large protests throughout the country and in Connecticut.
Republicans had hoped to change substantial portions of the law during the session that started in January. But Winfield and Stafstrom made it clear that only minor adjustments would be entertained this session.
In a joint statement, Winfield and Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said they were prepared to move forward with the bill on Monday.
“Our entire state benefits by ensuring law enforcement officers are better trained on when the use of force is authorized,” the co-chairs of the committee said. “It is unfortunate that our Republican colleagues ran the clock by introducing an unnecessary amendment that would only cause confusion about the proper legal review framework. We are hopeful that the bill can receive an up or down vote before time expires.”