A new requirement that police investigating a death quickly notify that person’s next of kin will go into effect in October following the governor’s Monday endorsement of a bill stemming from the painful experiences of two Bridgeport families.
Gov. Ned Lamont signed the legislation, which gives investigating officers 24 hours to contact a deceased person’s family or document why notification was not made. In egregious cases, the law gives the state Inspector General the authority to recommend repealing the certification of officers who fail to make contact.
The bill passed unanimously through both chambers of Connecticut’s legislature in April. It was written as a 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. Neither family was notified by police when the two women died in separate incidents.
During a Judiciary Committee hearing in March, members of both families described the heartbreak of having to piece together what had happened without a call from authorities. Smith-Fields’ mother recalled searching for her daughter and arriving at her apartment a day after her death.
“The note on the door said, ‘If you’re looking for Lauren, call this number.’ And it was the landlord’s number,” Shantell Fields said. “He was the one that told my son and I that my daughter was deceased. It was not the Bridgeport Police Department.”
The incidents in Bridgeport resulted in the city’s mayor ordering the police department to place two detectives on leave. The governor’s Monday signature on the bill came less than a week after the Connecticut Post reported that an arbiter had concluded that one of those detectives should be reinstated.