New law governs the way police release use of force data, camera footage

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New London — State police this week began using various social media platforms to provide “use of force” statistics to the public, an initiative that comes with the passage this year of legislation aimed at better accountability that requires police quicken timelines for the release of information and video to the public.

Public Act 19-90, “An act concerning the use of force and pursuits by police and increasing police accountability and transparency,” took effect Oct. 1.

The release of the data by state police on sites including Facebook and Twitter this week is something new, though some of the information previously was released on annual internal affairs reports posted on the state police website.

State police highlighted the fact that in 2018 troopers used force 88 times, less than 1 percent of the time, during 10,377 documented arrests. The numbers are down from the previous two years.

“This is 21st century policing. Social media and the use of technology not only helps us solve crime, it assists us in our effort to be transparent and accountable to the public,” Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella said in a statement.

The law requires, among other things, that law enforcement agencies annually submit use of force data to the state Office of Policy and Management’s Criminal Justice Police and Planning Division for eventual release to the public. In cases of deadly force by an officer, the new law requires a preliminary report to be submitted to the legislature within five days after the cause of death is available.

Reporting requirements are just one part of the new law. The same law provides for timelines for release of body-worn camera and dashboard camera footage and generally prohibits officers from shooting during pursuits.

Camera footage from body-worn and cruiser cameras will be available to the public as quickly as 48 hours after it is reviewed by the officer, or 96 hours if it is not.

“What’s fair is fair. If we as police officers can see the information, I think everybody else should be able to see it,” said state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, who is also a New London police officer.

Nolan voted in favor of the act and said constituents in New London had called for changes to existing laws that they perceived to be lacking transparency.

The New London Police Department does not yet have body-worn cameras but has a goal of equipping the force by next summer, Capt. Brian Wright said.

Wright said he respects the concept of providing better accountability and said the requirements regarding release of video will be incorporated into his department's procedures and policies as it moves toward the expected rollout.

“There’s work that has to be done by everyone involved,” Wright said. “I don’t know of any agency that this is not going to pose challenges to. I can understand the context — to provide accountability and provide assurances to the public — which is always positive.”

Certain camera footage remains nondisclosable, such as encounters with undercover officers, footage of people undergoing medical or psychological evaluations, people in a hospital setting or victims of sexual crimes or domestic violence under circumstances that would be considered an invasion of privacy.

The new act requires that by Jan. 1 investigative reports by the Division of Criminal Justice investigating an officer’s use of deadly force will be made public and posted online within 48 hours after they are shared with certain law enforcement officials. Those reports must include race, gender, ethnicity and age of the person the force was used on.

The act calls for establishment of a 13-member task force to study police transparency and accountability by Jan. 1.

The original bill, championed by Sen. Gary Winfield, came as a reaction to two high-profile police shootings early this year in Wethersfield and New Haven.

On April 16, a Hamden police officer and Yale University officer shot and injured a 22-year-old unarmed black woman who was riding in a car in New Haven with her boyfriend, about a mile from the Yale campus. The man was reportedly a suspect in an armed robbery, though he was never charged.

On April 20, Wethersfield police shot an 18-year-old unarmed driver at a traffic stop. During a police pursuit, one of the officers had exited his car with gun drawn, stepped in front of the still moving vehicle. He fired into the front windshield. The driver, Anthony Jose “Chulo” Vega Cruz, died two days after the shooting.

g.smith@theday.com

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