The law institutes a new statewide watchdog for police misconduct, bans “chokeholds” in most instances and puts limits on the ability of police departments to withhold officers’ disciplinary records. It also allows individual officers to be held financially liable in civil suits over their actions.
The law requires all departments statewide to equip officers with body-worn cameras and places limits on the military equipment Connecticut police departments can acquire or use.
“These reforms are focused on bringing real change to end the systemic discrimination that exists in our criminal justice and policing systems that have impacted minority communities for far too long,” Lamont said in a news release.
“Ultimately, what we are enacting today are policies focused on providing additional safeguards to protect peoples’ lives and make our communities stronger. Our nation and our state has been having a conversation on this topic for decades, and these reforms are long overdue.”
“Ending police violence will not be solved by any one bill, but the bill passed out of the legislature today is a start,” Melvin Medina, the ACLU of Connecticut’s public policy and advocacy director, said in a statement. “To the legislators who instead voted to shield the profession of policing from accountability, do better.”
The Connecticut law creates an independent Office of the Inspector General at the state level to investigate all uses of deadly force by police in the state, or all instances of death in police custody. The legislation grants the inspector general’s office subpoena power, and charges it with referring possible prosecutions to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice.
It also allows the state’s police accreditation body to revoke a law enforcement officer’s credentials if they have been found to have used excessive force.
To that end, the law bans neck restraints, or “chokeholds,” unless a law enforcement officer “reasonably believes” such a hold to be necessary to defend from “the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.”
The law requires officers who witness other officers using excessive force or banned holds to intervene.
One of the most heavily debated sections of the law is a blow to “qualified immunity,” the idea that government officials are protected from civil suits while performing the functions of their job.
Under the law signed Friday, Connecticut police officers can be subject to civil suit and can only claim immunity if the officer “had an objectively good faith belief that such officer’s conduct did not violate the law.”
The law also stipulates that, should a court find against an officer for having committed a “malicious, wanton, or willful act,” the officer in question must reimburse the government for his legal defense.
Other notable stipulations of the law include a ban on military designed equipment, which the law refers to as “controlled equipment.” Several classes of weapons are included in that ban, ranging from flash-bangs and explosives to armored drones and “highly mobile multi-wheeled vehicles.”
Officers’ disciplinary records are also prohibited from being shielded by any future collective bargaining agreements. Records are also now subject to the Freedom of Information Act.