Police video legislation might be revived [Rep-Am]

May 22, 2015


HARTFORD — Black and Hispanic lawmakers are leading an effort to bring back legislation to mandate police officers in Connecticut wear body cameras and guarantee the public’s right to videotape police in action.

Members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus announced Thursday morning that two proposals are going to be folded into a Senate bill proposing to crack down on police violence, including a hiring ban on former officers who have been found to have used excessive force.

Body cameras represent one of the top priorities for black and Hispanic lawmakers, said Rep. Bruce V. Morris, the caucus chairman.

“The money is there. The technology is there. This is the time when we are going to push as hard as we can to get it done,” he said.

An amendment being drafted now will require all police officers be equipped with body cameras, said Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield, a caucus member and Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

It will also guarantee the footage will be available publicly with certain exceptions, said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, a member of the caucus and the Judiciary Committee.

He said $15 million has been included in a proposed bonding package to pay for the body cameras for police officers.

The rider to Senate Bill 1109 will also resurrect a bill that died in the Judiciary Committee to protect the right of an individual to photograph or video record police officers in the performance of their duties.

A copy of the amendment to Senate Bill 1109 was not available Thursday. It was unclear when it would be filed.

The Democrat-led Senate will be prepared to schedule a vote on the legislation as soon as the amendment is ready, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said.

“I think it is extremely important legislation that we pass this year,” he said.

Duff and Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, joined black and Hispanic lawmakers in declaring support for the addition of the body camera and videotaping provisions to the excessive force bill.

“If you look at the seven items in this legislation, each is a very reasonable and prudent cause of action,” Fasano said.

VIDEO RECORDINGS OF deadly police shootings and other fatal encounters with law enforcement has prompted a national discussion over police accountability, including the use of body cameras by police officers

“We want to make clear this morning that this bill is not anti-police,” Coleman said.

It was Coleman who moved to strip a provision from Senate Bill 1109 that mandated police body cameras in the Public Safety and Security Committee. He did so because the legislation would not have otherwise had the votes to get out of that committee.

After attending Thursday’s news conference, Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, vice chairman of the public safety committee, said he believes Coleman played him because he only voted for the Senate bill after the camera provision had been dropped.

The retired West Hartford police officer said he continues to oppose a state mandate that requires police officers to use body cameras. He said police departments and local governments should make that decision.

The videotaping bill became a casualty of a political flap that stymied the Judiciary Committee on its reporting deadline on March 27. It was among nearly 50 bills and resolutions that died on the committee’s agenda after business ground to a halt that day.

Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, co-sponsored the videotaping bill. He has been proposing legislation to guarantee the public’s right to video record police for several years.

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association expressed support for the legislation that black and Hispanic lawmakers outlined Thursday

POLICE CHIEFS IN THE state are not opposed to body cameras or videotaping officers, said Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore, the legislative co-chairman of the chief’s association.

“It is unfortunate that it took some pretty dramatic events outside of Connecticut and in Connecticut to prompt this, but this bill has a lot of great protections that have a real chance of restoring the public’s confidence in police,” said David McGuire, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.

Salvatore said police chiefs want time to plan body camera policies and train officers. He said the association also believes the state should provide funding to local departments.