Excessive Force Bill Top Priority for Black and Puerto Rican Caucus [CT News Junkie]

May 22, 2015

CT News Junkie

The Black and Puerto Rican caucus was determined not to let a national conversation about policing and race escape them as Connecticut’s legislative session speeds to a close.

“This is a historic moment,” Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk, chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, said before describing legislation that would increase police training on the excessive use of force.

The caucus has unsuccessfully tried to move legislation forward in the past, and are hoping the heightened awareness created by incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore push this year’s legislation over the finish line.

“We do not want to be a state where our governor or someone has to respond to the fact that we are rioting inside of our cities,” Morris said, referring to the riots, protests, and marches in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a young African-American man who reportedly died of a broken spine sustained after he was arrested.

“There’s a social cost,” Morris said.

The draft language was not available yet Thursday, but Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said the amendment would be attached to S.B. 1109, which seeks to address police training in the excessive use of force, cultural competency, and bias-free policing.

The new bill will include language that would allow private citizens to record police activity and bring legal action against a police officer who tries to stop them from recording. Standalone legislation that would have allowed such recording to occur died in the Judiciary Committee, but has been a priority for Senate President Martin Looney for years based on several incidents in New Haven where citizens have had cellphones taken by the police officers they were recording.

The Public Safety and Security Committee at the end of April stripped language from the bill that would have required police officers to wear body cameras to record their interactions with the public, but the yet-to-be-filed amendment puts body cameras back on the table and seeks $15 million in bonding to fund their purchase.

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said he estimated that each body camera would cost around $900 and then he multiplied that with the number of municipal and state police officers. He said that it would cost about $8 million to outfit the entire police force in Connecticut with body cameras. The additional $7 million would be used to store the images captured by those camera.

Winfield said the footage from the cameras would be available under the state’s Freedom of Information laws except for specific situations where police would be required to shut off their cameras.

Coleman said there is resistance from some officers to the whole idea of body cameras, but the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association said they support the body camera initiative.

Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore said a majority of what he heard about the bill during Thursday’s press conference was acceptable. They support body cameras and many municipal police departments already have acquired them. However, he said he wants to make sure there is some sort of model policy for using the cameras.

“I still think they do need to put in place a policy,” Salvatore said.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, also attended the press conference to lend his support to the bill. He said police in East Haven were mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice to wear body cameras and “that has turned out to be something that has worked very well in the town of East Haven.” He said they realize it has both positive and negative effects, but “it has helped.”