Judiciary Committee Takes Steps Toward Modifying Police Accountability Law

State Capitol. CTNewsJunkie.com file photo (courtesy)

The bill will now have to be passed by the House and Senate and signed by the governor before March 31 since the law on the books would have it go into effect on April 1. 

By Lisa Backus, CTNewsJunkie.com 

After a stalled effort last week, members of the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Monday to update the standard for deadly use of force within the 2020 Police Accountability law.

The legislation that passed, a fourth version of the bill, would move the date of the implementation of the state’s new standard for the use of deadly force to Jan. 1 2022, and more clearly define the circumstances under which a police officer would be justified in using deadly force.

“We put our police officers in the job of trying to stop the bad guys on a daily basis,” said Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford. “Our job is to provide guardrails, to protect that balance between the police and the public.”

The push to get the bill through the committee stalled last week after Fishbein and Republicans submitted a seven word amendment that committee co-chairs Sen. Gary Winfield D-New Haven, and Stafstrom, felt was unnecessary.

Winfield and Stafstrom working with Republicans throughout the week wound up including some of the language from the amendment which clarified that police officers, correction officers and parole officers were justified in using deadly force when his or her actions “are objectively reasonable under the given circumstances at that time” and the officer “reasonably” believes that it is necessary to defend themselves or a third party from a deadly encounter.

The updated standard that was approved Monday stipulates that officers are justified in the use of deadly force if they have “reasonably determined that there are no available” reasonable alternatives and that when feasible, the officer has given warning that they intend to use deadly force.

The bill that passed committee Monday details the considerations that investigators must consider when determining if an officer was justified in using deadly force. Those considerations include any “unreasonable” conduct the officer used that escalated the situation to the point where the only option was to use deadly force.

The bill will now have to be passed by the House and Senate and signed by the governor before March 31 since the law on the books would have it go into effect on April 1.

It was fourth time in the past two weeks that the committee considered changes to the use of force standard that were laid out in the police accountability law passed last July.

Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, a member of the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force and the Chair of the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, had recommended the changes which included that the person upon whom the deadly use was used possessed a deadly weapon or “dangerous instrument.”

But Winfield and several Democratic members of the committee rejected that change out of concerns that items such as cell phones could be called “dangerous instruments” by police.

The other changes Mello requested removed the words “substantial” and “exhausted” from the section on when an officer can use deadly force. Mello had also recommended pushing the implementation date back from April 1 to Oct. 1, 2022 to give POST time to review deadly use of force policy changes with trainers who then would go back to their police departments and train officers.

“Our goal is to improve Connecticut’s use of force statute that you enacted last July,” Mello said. “We are now faced with the task of training police officers to operate on this new legal standard, which represents a change in the long-standing principles for which every Connecticut police officer has previously been trained.”

The police accountability law drew fire from police and Republicans last summer when it was debated during a special session that primarily dealt with measures involving the coronavirus pandemic. The law made sweeping changes in holding police accountable for deadly use of force incidents and mandated more training in de-escalation tactics and more use of body cameras.

The legislation was prompted by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May which sparked large protests throughout the country and in Connecticut.

Republicans had hoped to change substantial portions of the law during the session that started in January. But Winfield and Stafstrom made it clear that only minor adjustments would be entertained this session.

Republished with permission from CTNewsJunkie.com, all rights reserved.

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