Nearly two years after its passage, the 2020 Police Accountability Law is still under fire with Republicans offering proposed revisions that others said would gut the legislation even as a task force is working to change portions of the law.
Republican members of the Judiciary Committee peppered the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force with questions on how a recommended law change prohibiting traffic stops over minor equipment violations like broken taillights would reduce crime during a public hearing Wednesday.
But Attorney Darnell Crosland who was actually testifying in support of a different bill explained the relevance of the proposed changes and his thoughts about being stopped by police as a Black man.
“I heard some people say that they appreciate being stopped by police to let them know they had a taillight out,” Crosland said. “But I don’t need a police officer to cause me to piss my pants to tell me that my lights are out.”
SB 304 moves forward some of the recommendations drafted in an extensive report done by the task force which has worked for two years to examine a variety of issues related to making policing more transparent, accountable and responsive to the community.
The bill would mandate a study of the impact of school resources officers, define sanctions for police chiefs who fail to report officers who should be decertified for wrongdoing, mandate state accreditation for all police departments by 2025, and would prohibit police from stopping vehicles solely based on some minor equipment violations.
But Republicans, including several legislators who are current or former police officers, seized the opportunity during the hearing to decry the recommendations calling them yet another attack on police. “This is a whole new round of let’s see what we can do to make police jobs harder,” said Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, who is a former police officer.
Based on several years of data complied and examined by the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project under the direction of Kenneth Barone, an associate director at the Institute of Municipal and Regional Policy at the University of Connecticut, Black and Hispanic drivers in Connecticut are three to five times more likely to be pulled over by police for minor equipment or administrative violations than whites.
“What we consistently found in our annual traffic stop data is that police tend to stop cars for low level equipment violations in Black neighborhoods,” Barone said. “But more importantly, we found that if we have police do the same traffic enforcement in white neighborhoods, they come up with the same, or higher number of violations. It’s just that police aren’t doing traffic enforcement in those neighborhoods.”
Barone and IMRP provide the administrative function for the task force which was formed by the legislature as part of a 2019 police accountability law. The duties of the task force were expanded in the 2020 law that was crafted in large part by Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The 2020 law requires police to use body cameras, sets out guidelines for when an officer should be decertified, created the position of the Inspector General to independently investigate deadly use of police force and in-custody deaths, and strips in some cases the use of governmental immunity allowing more people to sue police for egregious behavior.
The task force was charged with examining other areas that the bill didn’t touch on including police interactions with the disability community. Of the 10 voting members, four are chiefs of police and two are retired police sergeants. The Chief State’s Attorney and Commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection which includes the state police are non-voting members.
The take force issued 21 recommendations based on dozens of sub-committee meetings, 14 public listening sessions and 27 meetings of the entire body over two years, Barone said. All of the recommendations were vetted by the task force and approved through a vote, he said.
SB 304 included a handful of the recommendations meant for legislative action while the others were forwarded to the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council which oversees all police training and municipal police departments. A separate bill addressed the recommendation that would allow licensed social workers to conduct psychological evaluations on police.
The one legislative recommendation that drew the most ire from Republicans during the public hearing was the prohibition of car stops based on minor equipment violations. The proposed change in the law would prohibit police from stopping a vehicle solely on the basis of a headlight or taillight being out or other minor violations such as rosary beads or fuzzy dice hanging on the rearview mirror.
A five-year study of car accident data showed that those types of violations led to one-tenth of 1% of all traffic accidents, Barone said. “The violations the task force identified do not contribute to car crashes, but they do contribute to significant disparities in traffic stops,” Barone said.
“But how do they get a person to fix a headlight, if they can’t stop them?” Champagne said.
Republicans have offered their own bill, SB 305, which would scale back or repeal portions of the 2020 Police Accountability Law.
But Winfield is resolute in his stance that Republicans will not be dismantling portions of the law. “I’m not interested in having a second or third discussion on the law,” Winfield said earlier this week. “They hate that they need probable cause to search a car, they don’t like the duty to intervene. All the stuff we’ve been talking about as a country, they want to walk back.”