Has One State Created the Ideal Blueprint for Police Reform Legislation That Could Save Black Lives?

June 4, 2015

Atlanta Black Star

Despite national news constantly alerting the nation of the death of yet another unarmed Black citizen by police, legislators have been dragging their feet on implementing the types of changes that might boost police accountability and prevent more tragic deaths from happening.

Even in Ferguson, Mo., the city that served as a sort of ground zero for the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for new legislation regarding the use of force by police, officials failed to pass any significantly meaningful legislation related to police brutality or any of the other issues that garnered national attention following the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

But Connecticut now has the potential to emerge as a leader in police reform.

The state’s Senate unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday that would actually implement a lot of the changes that citizens across the nation have long been talking about.

The bill would not only work to protect the public’s right to videotape police, but it would also provide incentives to encourage the use of police body cameras, which could shake up the entire process that takes place after an officer fatally shoots a suspect.

While other cities have failed to get such bills moving along with strong support from both parties, Sen. Eric Coleman, the co-chairman of the legislature’s judiciary committee and a key creator of the new bill, said it was easy to see what needed to be done.

Following the deaths of Black citizens like Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott and so many more, Coleman said it was essential that some sort of legislation was created to help mend the lack of trust that is driving more tensions between police officers and the communities they serve—especially the Black community.

“What those situations have uncovered is that there is somewhat of a problem between police departments and some of the communities they serve,” Coleman said, according to the Hartford Courant. “One of the objectives of the bill is to take some steps to try and improve the relationships between police and the community. The other thing the bill tries to do is recognize that police have a very difficult job and they are entrusted with a very broad authority and discretion and part of that authority includes the license to kill. What we seek to do in connection with this bill is to minimize the inappropriate use of any type of force but particularly deadly force.”

It’s a message that lawmakers have touted all across the country but it seems like Connecticut may have finally provided a blueprint for moving forward and pushing for actual legislative changes to accompany those flowery speeches and flamboyant promises that ultimately falter and becoming nothing more than an appealing campaign push.

Connecticut’s Senate debated the bill for roughly two hours before a decision came at 4 a.m. and presented a hefty list of provisions that could at least serve as a small step forward for police reform.

The bill’s provisions includes legislation supporting new training requirements and cultural sensitivity classes. It also initiates the development of programs that could help recruit more “minority officers,” change protocol for the aftermath of a police shooting by requiring a state’s attorney from a different jurisdiction to handle the investigation, prohibit officers who have been found guilty of certain misconduct from ever returning to the police force and a measure that will give the state the responsibility of paying for police body cameras so departments wouldn’t be discouraged by the staggering costs for the equipment.

“I think this is a great step forward,” said Sen. Len Fasano, the chamber’s Republican leader, according to the Hartford Courant. “I’m proud that our state said… ‘let’s be proactive.’”

It isn’t clear if such legislation will actually be the answer to solving the issues plaguing policing but giving the new bill a try would certainly help answer that concern. Having policies in place to attempt to protect the public is, of course, better than leaving the current criminal justice system as it is—which encourages more protection for cops and more punishment for the community.

Senate leaders are hopeful about the bill as it awaits action in the House of Representatives.
The legislature will adjourn at midnight on Wednesday.