Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday signed into law a wide-ranging police accountability bill that proponents said answers the calls for reform, after the police-involved death of George Floyd and other Black people, and works toward rebuilding trust in Connecticut's police departments.
The legislation, which cleared the Senate early Wednesday morning, creates a new inspector general to investigate police use-of-force cases, limits circumstances in which deadly use of force can be justified, and allows more civilian oversight of police departments and allows civil lawsuits against officers by individuals who've had their constitutional rights violated by police if those actions were deemed “malicious, wanton or willful," among other things.
“In the streets of Connecticut we saw a lot of people, thousands of people go into our streets for weeks, and suggest to us that we needed to do something about the system that is in place,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, the co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee. “And the government here responded."
Parts of the legislation, especially the section limiting government immunity protections for police in certain serious situations where a person's constitutional rights have been violated by “malicious, wanton or willful" conduct of an officer, have been met with strong opposition from police officers and their representatives across the state. Some have warned the bill will further hinder already challenging police recruitment efforts and encourage veteran officers to retire.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary, a former police chief and a Democrat, said he's heard that some of his city's officers might want to now retire. But he said there's a lot of misinformation among the police and the public about what the bill does and it's incumbent upon officials to explain the bill's true intentions.
Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, a police officer who worked on the legislation, said he's heard from colleagues who say they'll resign, as well as from newcomers who see the legislation as a new opportunity to work under a reformed system.
Hundreds of police officers rallied at the Capitol last week, hoping to persuade state legislators to oppose the legislation, arguing they felt betrayed by lawmakers and unfairly blamed for the actions of police in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, and elsewhere.
But Lamont stressed the bill “is not a knock on anybody,” noting there are many good officers on the beat in Connecticut.
“But we can do better,” the Democrat said. “And every day, we as political folks, as police, we have to continue to earn the respect of our community."
On Thursday, top members of Lamont's administration met with police union representatives and municipal officials to discuss their concerns with the legislation. While legislative leaders acknowledged some changes might be made in the coming months, considering parts of it won't take effect until next year, it's unclear what those might be.