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Connecticut got it right passing police accountability reforms

Recent incidents seen across the country have only bolstered our opinion that the Connecticut General Assembly acted appropriately last July when it enacted the police accountability legislation. The law better defines use of force parameters, boosts training requirements, and improves the chances that officers will be held culpable for negligent conduct, including creating a position of inspector general to investigate police shootings.

And as we predicted at the time, state lawmakers have shown a willingness to adjust the law as its provisions were further assessed and in reaction to concerns raised by law enforcement officials. The starting date for the new use-of-force standards, which had been set for this month, has been extended to Jan. 1. This recognized that more time was necessary to properly train officers in the new standards.

Other changes tweaked the language. Under the guidelines contained in the 2020 police accountability bill, police can only use deadly force when they reasonably believe they are defending themselves or others from deadly force. It further stated that for deadly force to be considered justified, officers would have had to “exhausted reasonable alternatives” to deadly force.

Law enforcement authorities argued, persuasively, that in a volatile situation an officer cannot be expected to have the opportunity to exhaust all alternatives. The new language states the officer must “reasonably determine” that there are no alternatives to the use of deadly force.

The delay in implementation and language changes were approved last month 146-0 in the House, 30-3 in the Senate.

On April 11, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was fatally shot during a traffic stop by an officer with the Brooklyn Center Police Department. The incident took place only 10 miles from the trial in Minnesota of Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with murdering George Floyd.

It was the Floyd killing that set off nationwide protests by the Black Lives Matter movement and the calls for reforms, to which Connecticut lawmakers responded. The accountability bill was approved in partisan fashion, unfortunately, with Democrats overwhelmingly in favor, Republicans uniformly opposed.

Wright was driving a vehicle with expired registration tags. When pulled over, officers discovered that there was a warrant for his arrest for failure to appear in court on a gun-related charge. When he resisted, and climbed back into his car, he was fatally shot.

Officer Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran, claimed she mistakenly discharged her firearm and had meant to deploy her Taser. Potter has resigned and is charged with manslaughter.

Only recently did the public learn of a Dec. 5 incident in which police officers in Virginia held an Army officer at gunpoint, handcuffed him and doused him with pepper spray when he refused to get out of his vehicle. Caron Nazario, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, who is Black and Latino, kept his hands in view during the entire incident, saying later he feared that if he moved his hands inside the car to open the door or release his seatbelt, he might be shot.

A later review found police had no cause to stop the vehicle and interrogate Nazario. The officer who pepper sprayed him, Joe Gutierrez, was fired.

It is irrational to look at such incidents, and the fact that they keep happening, and argue that reforms such as those seen in Connecticut are not necessary. As noted in an article carried by The Day Sunday, these continued incidents of unjustified police violence have traumatized Black Americans; fearful that a traffic stop or other encounter with police places their lives in danger.

Other reforms passed in July include creation of local civilian review boards to assure information is not hidden and to help build trust with communities of color. It requires body cameras for all officers, which is being gradually implemented by departments and which can protect police as much as the public by supplying a record of what happens.

Improved training includes ways to identify implicit bias that an officer may not even recognize.

In the months since the landmark legislation was approved we have, unfortunately, only been reminded how much this law was needed.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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