Police investigating a death would have 24 hours to contact that person’s family under a bill passed unanimously by the House Wednesday which seeks to prevent the experiences of two Bridgeport families who were not notified of their loved one’s death.
The bill, passed 149 to 0, was a legislative response to the Bridgeport Police Department’s handling of the deaths of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls on the same night in December. Members of the Smith-Fields family were present in the House chamber as Bridgeport Democrat Rep. Steve Stafstrom brought out the bill.
Stafstrom told the chamber that Smith-Fields’ mother learned of her daughter’s death from her landlord when police failed to reach out.
“It is hopeful that these types of egregious incidents, which we saw at the end of last year will never happen again, but if they do and in those most extreme instances — a police department simply fails flat in its duty to inform a family, the Inspector General should have the ability to at least investigate,” Stafstrom said.
The legislation gives police one day to notify a family member or document why they were unable to do so. It gives the Inspector General authority to recommend an officer’s decertification in cases “where there is truly some sort of malice conduct or reckless indifference,” Stafstrom said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle spoke in favor of the bill during a short debate Wednesday. Rep. Greg Howard, a police officer and Republican from Stonington, said he did not consider the bill to be “anti-police” legislation. Instead, he said it codified the minimum standards which most officers already observed.
“I think every good police officer in the state can look at this bill and say, ‘Well this is how I already do it,’ and they can continue about doing the good work that they do and treating families with the right amount of sympathy and respect and courtesy,” Howard said. “And any officer who would seek to not do that will find themselves corrected. As they should be.”
The bill will now move to the state Senate for consideration before the legislative session ends next week.