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Norwich NAACP supports state police accountability law

Norwich — Leaders of the Norwich NAACP branch on Monday supported the new state police accountability law and pledged to continue working with Norwich police to improve transparency, accountability and to ensure equal treatment for anyone interacting with police.

The new law, “An Act Concerning Police Accountability,” signed by Gov. Ned Lamont July 31, addresses police training, bans chokeholds, mandates body and dashboard cameras for state troopers and most controversially removes so-called “qualified immunity” for police officers, a protection against civil suits against individual officers.

Instead, the law calls for continued immunity coverage for police but allows civil suits in state courts. The officer will owe reimbursement if the court rules the officer’s behavior was “malicious, wanton or willful.”

NAACP branch President Shiela Hayes credited Norwich police for working closely with the organization and for already meeting or exceeding some of the initiatives included in a new police data transparency initiative.

The branch formed the NAACP Norwich Police Accountability Task Force in the spring following the public outcry over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The task force met with Police Chief Patrick Daley and other members of the city police department on July 1 to discuss police procedures, use of force protocols, and the “Eight Can’t Wait” police reforms proposed after Floyd’s death.

Hayes said the Police Data Initiative asks police departments to release statistics that go beyond the required release of data on criminal activity, to include employee demographics, driver demographics in motor vehicle stops and use of force incidents.

Hayes said the NAACP Robertsine Duncan Youth Council will work with police to create a survey to assess the interaction between the youth, police and the community. NAACP Youth Council President Karen Lau said the council will discuss use of force, training, de-escalation training, domestic violence responses and how officers respond to people with disabilities and mental health issues.

“So, we are working toward a more positive relationship with youth and the police department,” Lau said. “I think it’s important for youth to be involved in these conversations, because so many of these policies that affect our communities directly affect our youths in schools.”

Lau, a senior at Norwich Free Academy, said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with police and that officers met with the council and answered questions.

Hayes said the NAACP task force will meet with police again in September to discuss a provision in the new law that allows cities and towns to create civilian review boards, which the NAACP supports. Hayes said the task force will research types of civilian review boards in other communities and discuss them with police before making a recommendation.

While Hayes said the NAACP refrains from becoming involved in political issues, her statement at Monday’s news conference included a reference to a news conference by Republican state legislative candidates and Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom that criticized the new police accountability bill, especially the provision changing qualified immunity.

Hayes said the NAACP task force “takes exception” to the politicians’ emphasis that the new law could lead to increased police position vacancies, rather than focusing on the protection against officers’ misconduct.

“Our elected officials would be better served if they strive to ensure that all police departments emulate the Norwich Police Department and reduce excessive use of force and unnecessary deaths of minorities in the state,” Hayes said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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