• Kim Healy for CT

The Police Accountability Bill Was a Mistake

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

I am the daughter and sister of two former police officers. My father and brother were wonderful officers who served their communities dutifully, making them safer and better. I fully understand the impulse behind policing reform, and I even agree with many of the reforms on offer. I categorically disagree, however, with the tone being set nationally, and to some degree in Connecticut regarding police officers.

The vast majority of good officers are being falsely painted as reckless, criminal, and bigoted. This is not accurate, it is not fair, and it will endanger our communities. It is that negative sentiment which seems to have propelled provisions in HB 6004, through the Assembly House.

Recent national events, including the killing of George Floyd, have resulted in a strong response around the country. Although Connecticut does not seem to have the same policing issues as cities like Chicago or Minneapolis, many of our state legislators determined that we must also enact policing reforms and do so with incredible speed. And when did these legislators decide this set of transformational policies should be brought to the General Assembly? In a special session focused on the state’s coronavirus response.

Within the matter of a few weeks, a bill was hastily drafted, spearheaded by the Democratic Party and co-sponsored by the 26th District incumbent, Sen. Will Haskell. With little public comment, time for debate or expert testimony, and the full legislative process, this thoroughly flawed bill was rammed through the House. Even if this had been a perfect bill, and it is not, it should not have been proposed during special session.

The most revolutionary provision in the bill limits Qualified Immunity as a legal shield of police officers, their departments, and the municipalities that those departments protect. There is good reason to believe that this provision will discourage proactive policing and create large liabilities for municipalities. HB 6004 goes further and prohibits officers from asking to search a vehicle and precludes departments from procuring useful, often necessary federal equipment and vehicles, among other unnecessary provisions.

There are good provisions in HB 6004 like those requiring body cameras, the creation of civilian review boards, additional training and certifications, and others. Unfortunately, the costs of some of the provisions will be high and there’s little indication of how those programs will be funded. Rather than take an appropriate reform-minded view regarding union protections of bad officers, increasing transparency via freedom of information requests, and empowering departments with better controls over their officers, this bill creates large liabilities for municipalities.

Many provisions of HB 6004 seem to make police officers more vulnerable in the line of duty. We have safe communities and relatively little crime in our cities compared to many larger American cities. There is no reason that this bill had to be rushed and given an improper hearing in the House and by the public. It is little wonder that it barely passed with a 72-72 tie. As of 4 a.m. July 29th, the State Senate passed the bill 25-15 with Sen. Haskell voting for the bill. It will now be sent to the Governor’s desk.

I appreciate and approve of some of these reforms. I am open to further reforms, but our state should only make sweeping changes in the course of the normal legislative process. Rushed law will almost certainly be bad law. As a state, we need prudence now more than ever.

I encourage Governor Lamont to veto HB 6004. With due process, public and expert comment, and during a normal session, the Assembly should pick up the issue once more and produce a smarter, better bill.

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