The draft of a wide-ranging police accountability bill being considered in the wake of George Floyd’s death and other police-involved killings calls for a new inspector general to investigate police use-of-force cases and would require all Connecticut police officers to have periodic mental health screenings, according to details unveiled Friday by Democratic and Republican state lawmakers.
Crafted by the four leaders of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, the proposal is supposed to be the basis for legislation that could come up for a vote in a special session this summer, possibly before the end of July.
“This effort that brings us the bill today was the bipartisan attempt to come to some agreement and do a significant and strong bill,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, the committee’s Senate chairman. “And I think that’s what you see before you.”
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has urged lawmakers to return for a special legislative session to pass new police accountability legislation as well as a bill that could allow more residents to vote by absentee in November, given the continuing pandemic. Lamont already issued an executive order that imposed some changes affecting the state police, and various groups have unveiled their own ideas for reforms, including the General Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and the Senate Democrats, who’ve also called for legislation addressing long-standing racial inequities in the state.
State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, the leading House Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers need to hear from those “who will be directly and indirectly impacted” by the roughly 60-page proposal before a vote can be taken.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, the leading Senate Republican on the committee, made it clear he’s not yet endorsing the legislation as it stands. He said he has some concerns with the proposal but praised his Democratic colleagues for involving the Republicans, the minority party in the General Assembly, in the weeks of negotiations.
“These are robust proposals,” he said. “Where we end up, I don’t know.”
The format for any public hearing on the bill has not yet been decided. Kissel suggested the legislative leaders might decide to hold an online public hearing, rely on submitted written testimony or possibly have an in-person hearing at the state Capitol with social distancing measures.
The draft bill includes roughly 40 sections. Among the highlights:
- Create an independent office of inspector general to investigate use of force cases and prosecute when necessary.
- Require all officers to periodically have mental health screenings.
- Change state’s “use of force” policy, moving from a subjective standard to a more objective standard for when force is appropriate.
- Require an officer to intervene if they witness excessive use of force by police and provide that officer with whistleblower protections.
- Increase training requirements for police to include things like implicit bias and how to manage crowds of people.
- Make police disciplinary records subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
- Replace the entire membership of Police Officer Standards and Training Council by the end of 2020 with new people who have different skill sets and represent a greater diversity of communities. The reconstituted council would have expanded ability to pull the state certification of officers.
- Require body and dashboard cameras for all officers engaging with the public.
- Increase the penalties for making a false police report based on a race, gender, national origin or sexual identity.
- Place limits on the type of military-grade equipment municipalities can obtain through the federal government.
- Ban quotas for pedestrian stops by police.
- Request police departments to review whether they can use social workers in lieu of sending officers to certain calls and impose stronger reporting requirements for departments when force is used.
- Allow more municipalities to appoint citizen police review boards.
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