Sen. Hwang Listens to Testimony and Emotional Stories on Police Accountability Reform

July 20, 2020

HARTFORD – Friday, July 17, 2020 – the CT General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee held a virtual “listening” hearing on draft LCO 3471, the proposed police accountability bill.  The hearing lasted for nearly 12 hours and the committee heard from multiple shareholders and CT residents.  Following the unusual public forum, State Senator Tony Hwang (R-28) who watched most of the proceedings via CT-N offered the following statement:

Thank you to the bipartisan leadership and members on the Judiciary Committee for debating this important legislative proposal inclusive of public comment. Even with a virtual hearing, I could see the deeply personal nature of the testimonies shared, and those accounts and opinions are vital components of the public record and lawmaking process.  Adjusting to a new meeting format due to Covid safety concerns while discussing a very sensitive subject is no easy feat.  While the situation is not ideal, the lawmaking legislative process has to start somewhere.

Nonetheless, I would recommend the legislature fully examine any unintended consequences to law enforcement to maintain public safety and municipal financial and legal liability that would occur if law enforcement lost its qualified immunity.  The short two-day notice we received for today’s highly unusual public “listening” format has me concerned that the CT’s legislative body is taking a rushed approach to handling a very important and emotionally charged issue affecting many lives. 

I have received an incredible amount of input and suggestions from my constituents and law enforcement on how and if the legislature should enact any police accountability reforms.  I appreciate each person taking the time to share their thoughts on the proposed changes to an integral part of our everyday lives..

I do support taking a closer look at the accountability and transparency of Connecticut’s police force.  As the ranking senator on the Public Safety Committee I have been very invested and led the recent measures proposed to strengthen police oversight and social justice.  

Just last year, I was proud to co-sponsor and stand with the state senate as one of 36 unanimous votes to approve CT Public Act 19-90, which requires the police to release body or dashboard camera video within 96 hours of an incident upon request. This provides a timely check and balance with law enforcement agencies.  These measures are necessary when handling use-of-force incidents and fatalities.  This bill set a new standard by requiring the quick turnaround of information to the public. 

The bill also prohibits police from shooting at or into fleeing vehicles unless there is an imminent threat of death to another person. The bill also expands the list of incidents to report on to include the use of chokeholds, pursuits or any incident that is likely to cause serious injury. The bill also enacts measures to review and see patterns in law enforcement actions.  The information provided to state authorities would include identifying the race and gender of those involved and how the force was used, and any injuries suffered.

More conversations can and must happen on police body cameras for transparency and accountability of law enforcement actions. We need to implement procedures that emphasize empathy, mental health, and de-escalation. Law enforcement culture must be examined and reformed to align with science-based best practices and person-centered judgement of what is right or wrong, not if the person is good or bad. Police staffing needs to be representative of the community which it protects, and that is trained in providing support, making social connections, and recognizing and preventing stereotypic bias. We have begun this important work in Connecticut and we still have much more to do and I am committed to working towards it.

We all have a responsibility to bring our communities together and provide a safe and promising future for everyone regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  A future that provides opportunity, justice, protections and free exchange of contrasting ideas for every single American equally – without excuse or exception.

State Senator Tony Hwang represents the 28th Senate District in the Connecticut General Assembly. Hwang is Deputy Minority Senate Leader and the ranking legislative  leader in the Housing Committee, Public Safety and Security Committee and Higher Education & Employment Committee and also serves as a member of the Transportation Committee.  Hwang is the 1st Asian-American elected to CT State Senate since its founding in 1639 and has been involved in elected public service since 2005.