Government Police/Fire

Police Accountability Unit Could Take a Year To Be Fully Operational

Reps. Brandon McGee and Matt Ritter converse during a previous debate on Police Accountability. Courtesy of CTNewsJunkie (file photo)

The position of Inspector General may be filled as soon as Oct. 1, but creation of the unit involves addition staffing and funding.

By Lisa Backus, CTNewsJunkie.com

The unit created by the new police accountability law to independently investigate the use of deadly force by police will not likely be fully funded or operational for another year, according to legislative leaders.

“It’s not going to happen all in one shot,” said state Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee who favors a “phased in” approach. “It’s probably going to take us over a year given the nature of what we’re trying to do.”

The unit, which will be headed by the newly created position of Inspector General, would investigate all incidents involving the deadly use of force by police and in-custody deaths.

The Inspector General position may be filled as early as Oct. 1, which is the timeline laid out in the law.

But there are more than a few hurdles to clear, including who is paying the estimated $1.1 million tab to create the specialized unit, and how long it will take to get enough staff on board to begin investigating.

“This is an important position to get back the trust of the community and hold officers accountable for their actions,” said Chief State’s Attorney Richard M. Colangelo Jr.

The unit falls under the Division of Criminal Justice, which Colangelo heads, but will be considered independent to ensure the integrity of the investigations. Candidates applying for the position must be working within the division and submit their application by Sept. 10.

As of Tuesday, Colangelo and Walker don’t know how the cost of creating and maintaining the unit will be paid. The state Office of Fiscal Analysis pegged the cost of running the unit in 2021 at $1.1 million. That includes $167,183 for the salary for the inspector general.

There will also need to be inspectors and prosecutors within the unit and office space where the unit will work, Colangelo said.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that the unit will need nine employees, Colangelo said. He felt it would need 11 employees, including legal staff. He can absorb two positions of the 11 within the division, but otherwise, “I have no idea where the positions or money is coming from,” Colangelo said.

Colangelo’s division has some flexibility to fill positions but the unit may be looking at getting $500,000 in funding as the inspector general works out the parameters of how the unit will work, Walker said.

“We’re not going to be able to fill all the positions at once,” Walker said. “I don’t see that happening overnight because we’re creating something that doesn’t exist.”

It’s unclear if the $500,000 would come from Colangelo’s budget or the state budget. Walker said it could take until the next legislative session for the unit to be fully funded. She wants the unit “planned and designed so they can be effective,” she said.

“We need to make sure it’s done appropriately,” Walker said.

It’s also unclear if the Inspector General could hire staff since it will be an interim position until the person is vetted and confirmed by the legislature, said state Rep. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, who largely crafted the police accountability law.

“We’ll have to figure that out once the person is chosen,” Winfield said. “The only date the law says is Oct. 1 for hiring the individual.”

Advocates had called for an independent body to investigate several highly publicized deaths by police, including the Jan. 15 fatal shooting of 19-year-old Mubarak Soulemane as he was sitting in a car surrounded by police after a multi-town chase.

The police accountability law has drawn fire from some officers who say portions of the law are anti-police. But the legislation, which was crafted after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, is supported by groups like the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union, which have been calling for more transparency and accountability by police.

The law calls for more transparency from state police through the release of all internal affairs investigations, not just the allegations that have been substantiated, which is already being challenged in court. The law also calls for more training in de-escalation and more use of body cameras by officers.

The accountability law also created the Office of the Inspector General to independently investigate the use of deadly force by officers and in-custody deaths throughout the state. Previously, municipalities and the state Department of Correction investigated their own in-custody deaths, and in cases where officers used deadly force, a state’s attorney from a different jurisdiction would investigate with the help of state police gathering evidence.

There were 25 similar investigations in 2019 and at least 19 in 2018, Colangelo said.

Candidates for the position must have at least three years of experience as an attorney and be employed within the Division of Criminal Justice, in accordance with the law. The state’s Criminal Justice Commission will select which candidates they want to interview for the position and choose a candidate. That person must then be approved by the legislature.

The commission is meeting Sept. 24, but it’s unclear if they will interview candidates during the meeting or make a hiring decision.

The law calls for the appointment of an Inspector General by Oct. 1.

Once hired, the Inspector General will pick staff. It could take up to six weeks for the staff to be chosen, Colangelo said. The unit could start work in early 2021 if the Inspector General was able to hire staff immediately, Colangelo said.

“The reality is that the budget is going to have an impact on everything we do,” Winfield said. “But we’ll figure it out.”

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

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