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Connecticut GOP finds unions it can coddle: those representing police

If not now, when?

It's the question we could have put to the minority of Connecticut legislators who did not support the broadly bipartisan 2012 bill that strengthened gun laws after the heartbreaking killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

It's also one I would put now to the many Connecticut Republicans who voted against the state's timely police accountability law, a response to the national horror evoked by the videoed execution of George Floyd at the hands of police on a public street in Minneapolis.

Despite all the Republican hand-wringing, there is nothing onerous or unreasonable about the reforms proposed for Connecticut, from banning most chokeholds and making police discipline records more accessible under Freedom of Information laws to requiring police body cameras and empowering police civilian review boards.

Republicans, dismissing these measures, envision a public safety crisis for Connecticut on the order of the apocalyptic lawlessness predicted by their President Donald Trump.

"The Ct. Senate can take a stance today against the liberal mob!" was one of the very Trumpian tweets by the Connecticut GOP, before the police accountability bill vote.

"The nation will become a lawless one unless @realDonaldtrump gets reelected," was another.

Honestly, removing deadly chokeholds from the police arsenal or making police discipline records public, as unsettling as that may be to powerful police unions, is not going to create anarchy in Connecticut cities.

Even as Republicans were voting against police accountability, they were soliciting police union votes in tweets. The party seems to have finally found a public employee union block it can support.

I am sorry that my own representative in the Senate, Heather Somers of Groton, who referred to the Floyd protests in a radio interview as "these actions, this darkness, I'll put it that way, coming across our nation," voted against the Floyd-inspired police accountability bill in Connecticut. She was joined by the region's other Republican senator, Paul Formica of East Lyme.

The most angst among Connecticut Republicans about the police accountability bill revolved around provisions to limit the immunity police enjoy from lawsuits.

Democratic state Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, also voted against the bill because of issues he had with qualified immunity.

Republican Rep. Jesse McLachlan of Westbrook commendably cast a crucial vote to keep the limit on police immunity in the legislation and was the only Republican to vote the measure up in the House. More kudos to Democratic Rep. Anthony Nolan, a Black police officer from New London, who left his safe zone to vote yes on the legislation, which he said addresses the bad apples of policing.

In the end, the only personal liability for police allowed in the new bill would be in instances of "malicious, wanton or willful acts."

Do these Republicans voting no really want to protect police, already fully empowered by the law, from harm they do when a jury of their peers might find they did something wrong wantonly or maliciously?

Are we really worried that police or aspiring police who want to act maliciously or wantonly will retire early or not join up in the first place? Good riddance, I'd say. That's insulting to all the fine police who act honorably.

As for the exposure to liability for municipalities due to police misconduct, I'd suggest that's the way our justice system works, to provide a lawful forum for citizens to bring civil claims, whether against a doctor and hospital found guilty of malpractice or the employer of a police officer who is found to be negligent.

The Republicans who voted no on police accountability used some of the same excuses as the minority of lawmakers who voted against gun reform after Sandy Hook, that the process was rushed and flawed and didn't have enough public input.

They are similar moments in the state's history, when, fortunately, a majority of lawmakers understood their responsibility to act in a timely way to a preponderance of pressing public opinion.

That's why they are elected as the people's representatives, to make these kinds of decisions in response to a moment in time. These problems have festered unresolved for too long.

If not now, when?

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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