Hartford, CT – Connecticut lawmakers passed a police reform bill early Wednesday morning following over 10 hours of debate that began the day prior.
Under the legislation, citizens will be able to sue individual law enforcement officers more easily, with no cap on the amount officers could be held liable to pay, the Hartford Courant reported.
“This will make us go farther than the one other state that has taken away qualified immunity,” Senator John Kissel said, referring to Colorado. “We don’t have any limitations” on financial damages.
The burden could be shifted to individual cities in cases where the officer is not found to have knowingly violated the law, WFSB reported.
“Good cops are going to be sued – no doubt about it,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano said, according to the Hartford Courant.
The bill also calls for reform of police training and practices, the appointment of an inspector general to investigate use-of-force incidents, limitations on situations in which deadly force is justified, mandatory mental health screenings for officers, and mandatory use of bodycams, according to FOX News.
The state Senate passed the measure 22-14 at approximately 4 a.m. on July 29, according to the Connecticut Post.
All Senate Republicans voted against the reform bill, as did one lone Democrat representative.
“With Senate passage of the police accountability bill, we have affirmed to the people of Connecticut that their voices were not ignored and that changes in laws and policies enhancing transparency and professionalism in policing will be the new norm in our state,” Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney told the Connecticut Post after the vote.
The bill was introduced by judiciary committee co-chairman Senator Gary Winfield, who described the legislation as a “step to right the wrongs of the past.”
“The center of this problem is that black people in this state and in this country have a problem with police. It goes back to slavery,” Winfield said, according to the Hartford Courant.
He said his own children “should not have to experience the strange power relationship that we as black people have with police.”
“For years, I’ve stood side by side with activists and organizers who have fought tirelessly for social justice and changes in our criminal justice system,” Winfield declared, according to the Connecticut Post. “By passing this police accountability bill, we are finally acknowledging that these entrenched, systemic behaviors are unacceptable, and change is needed.”
Debate over the legislation began just before 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the Connecticut Post.
According to Winfield, officers will only be held liable in cases in which a jury determines they were involved in a “malicious, wonton or willful act,” the Hartford Courant reported.
But Kissel said that he believed the bill went “too far” and could have “unintended consequences,” according to the Connecticut Post.
“You’re going to maybe over-charge in the litigation to make sure that you are correct about who’s ultimately at fault,” Kissel said, according to the Connecticut Post. “I also get that there’s litigation out there where folks are looking to get money and if you examine some of these suits, many of them are ultimately settled.”
He said he expects some officers to leave the profession altogether due to the fear they could potentially lose everything.
“You’re going to see police not be proactive, but reactive,” Fasano added, according to WFSB. “In other words, if they see something that they think may be an issue, they are going to be reluctant to intercede, because they are going to get sued.”
Senator Dan Champagne, a retired law enforcement officer, said that the bill was “bad for police and…for correction officers,” the Connecticut Post reported.
“We’re rushing this through,” he warned.
Senator Rob Sampson referred to the legislation as “an anti-police bill,” The CT Mirror reported.
“This bill seeks to decimate law enforcement as we know it,” Sampson said.
State Police Union President Trooper John Castiline told WFSB that he believes in transparency, but that officers must also be protected.
“We also believe in protecting police officers and their right and right to due process, and if people make unsubstantiated complaints, we don’t feel they should be put out into the public,” Trooper Castiline said.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said he will sign off on the legislation, the Connecticut Post reported.
“I would approve it,” Lamont said Monday, according to the Hartford Courant. “I think it’s a good bill. It takes into account transparency and accountability — builds more trust between the police and the local community. I think it’s important.”