Posted on July 28, 2020 by admin
Policing Reform in Connecticut
A police reform proposal passed the House of Representatives Friday morning after a rushed process through the Judiciary Committee, where I am a member and a debate in the House chamber that began at 1:30am Friday morning.
The bill was written in response to protests that formed across the country including Connecticut after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who was brutally murdered in broad daylight by a Minneapolis police officer while other officers stood by and did nothing to intervene.
From the beginning, I have fully supported passing legislation that could bring much-needed reform with common sense transparency and accountability to Connecticut law enforcement officers. I have communicated with many different members of the Waterbury community to identify areas of concern and of support. And while the legislation had many good provisions they did not outweigh the negative and possible harm the bill could have on our police and ultimately the safety of Waterbury.
Some of the positives of the police accountability bill are; 1) the implementation of implicit bias training so law enforcement can better recognize how they unconsciously treat, judge and interact with members of certain backgrounds or races; 2) greater transparency when it comes to collective bargaining and public records disclosure; 3) looking to keep better data on minority recruitment of police officers; 4) studying the feasibility of having licensed social workers assist on certain calls where appropriate; 5) periodic mental health and drug screenings to make sure we are putting the best officers in the field.
But as I mentioned, the bill included many other sections which not only I viewed as harmful to the overall police community – many police officers contacted my office and told me this bill would leave our officers demoralized and possibly paralyzed to do their already difficult and dangerous job.
One of the more concerning parts of the bill is this notion of ending qualified immunity for police officers, which permits law enforcement to be held personally liable for things they might do on the job. Right now, law enforcement officers are entitled to qualified immunity when their actions do not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right. Without having qualified immunity in the law, police officers and the cities who employ them have serious concerns that the additional liability will make officer recruitment and retention more difficult and could potentially be very costly to insure a city’s police force. To be clear, even now, willful misconduct by a police officer is not protected by qualified immunity.
Another section of the bill goes against the very notion of crime fighting and harms our ability to keep drugs and guns off our city streets by limiting consent searches by law enforcement. In taking away this valuable policing tool to ask consent of a person to search a motor vehicle or their person, we diminish the ability of our police to do their jobs.
I walked away very sad that I was forced to vote against a bill I really wanted to support. I want to help end the systemic racism propagated against Black Americans in this country. I believe bigotry, ignorance and senseless violence in all forms is wrong because racist and prejudiced attitudes in all communities need to be called out and repudiated. Ultimately, I voted no because this bill makes our state and our City of Waterbury less safe.
This bill should have been collaborative and should not have spawned a “if you’re not with me you’re against me” mentality. This bill should have been written with all stakeholders at the table. This bill deserved a full public hearing during our next regular session not a ‘listening session’ in the middle of the summer where members were limited to one question per person testifying. The best legislation normally is the legislation we fully vet and have a robust debate in the light of day. I was elected to vote my conscience and vote my district and sometimes that means making the tough decision and not the politically expedient one and that is what I believe I did.
Rep. Cummings represents the 74th district covering Waterbury’s East End and East Mountain.