This editorial from Hearst Connecticut Media ran in the Record-Journal on Monday, Feb. 14:
When Connecticut passed a police reform law in the wake of widespread protests for racial justice in 2020, it was one of the few states to take concrete action. A lot of people did a lot of talking, but Connecticut deserves credit for making changes that have a real impact on the relationship between police and the communities they serve.
Among other measures, the 2020 law updated the certifications and training required for officers, mandated that officers must have their names and badge numbers visible at all times, barred certain restraint techniques and created a new independent Office of the Inspector General to conduct use-of-force investigations. Perhaps most controversially, the law also allows officers to be held financially liable in civil suits over their actions in some cases.
Though unions representing police around the state vociferously protested, and continue to object to many of its measures, the law represented an important step forward. But as time has shown, the work of reform is not complete, and there are several items up for debate this year that would both increase accountability and strengthen the relationship between police and the people.
One stems from a pair of unrelated yet equally tragic Bridgeport cases from December. Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls died on Dec. 12, in separate incidents, and in both cases their families were left in the dark. A bill supported by the local delegation would require police who respond to or encounter someone who has died to ensure that the person’s next of kin is notified within 24 hours of the person’s identification or document why such a notification was impossible.
It’s hard to believe this isn’t the law already, and many legislators are lining up in support of the idea. One union official countered that the burden should be on the chief of police, not the responding officers, but either way, this is a change that must be made. There is no excuse for what happened in Bridgeport last year — twice — to happen to other families.
A separate measure up for debate would take on a more controversial topic, where officers who are fired for serious offenses or who left while under investigation are then hired at other police departments elsewhere in the state. A bill under consideration would curtail this practice, closing a loophole in the 2020 law and ensuring accountability for those who break regulations.
This is not an anti-police bill. In fact, the vast majority of officers who do their jobs well and conscientiously should support the idea because it prevents people who break the rules from skirting consequences for their actions.
It doesn’t mean officers who run afoul of the law are incapable of rehabilitation or that those wrongfully accused should be shut out of their livelihood, but it does mean everyone is held to account for their actions.
Under the current system, that’s too often not the case.
At a public hearing on the idea recently, a police union official suggested such an idea represents “overkill,” because other reform measures have recently passed. This is mistaken. It is always a balance, and police play a vital role in ensuring everyone’s safety. But with that responsibility must come accountability.