House Republicans Push for Clarity in Police Accountability Bill
Posted on March 1, 2021
During a meeting of the Judiciary Committee today, House Republicans proposed an amendment to modify the state’s controversial soon-to-take-effect police accountability law to protect police officers from being held criminally and civilly liable for certain use of force actions based on the information the officer had at the time of the incident.
State Representative Craig Fishbein, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, offered the amendment as a compromise during discussion on HB 6462 – AN ACT CONCERNING USE OF FORCE BY A PEACE OFFICER – which was being debated to “delay changes to provisions concerning use of force by a peace officer enacted as part of public act 20-1 of the July special session and to make certain other changes to said provisions.” The controversial law has also been under fire for establishing new protocols with arbitrary timelines that do not allow police departments adequate time to implement and train.
“If this law goes into effect as currently written, and without this simple modification to codify a clear and reasonable standard regarding use of force incidents into state law, Connecticut’s police, corrections, parole and other sworn peace officers will be forced to drastically change their training and tactics to the overall detriment of the community at large,” Rep. Fishbein said. “Asking police officers to put their lives on the line and make split second decisions without providing clear protections based on what another officer would consider reasonable in a similar circumstance has the potential to cause unintended harm to the community. If officers are afraid of losing their livelihood or personal freedom for their choices based on information that could not have been reasonably known at the time, they could be less apt to respond to dangerous incidents in the way we have come to expect.”
Similar to a 2019 California law that offers the same protections in 71 words, today’s amendment would have inserted only the following seven words – “known to the officer at the time” – and would codify into Connecticut law the current statewide and federal standard regarding police use of force that has been in place since at least 1989 when the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Connor. In that case, the Court ruled that an objective standard of reasonableness – what a reasonable person in the same situation would believe – overruled claims of excessive force.
Proponents of the amendment argued that it is unreasonable to hold an officer accountable after the fact when hindsight allows a thorough and exhaustive gathering, investigation and discussion of evidence and information that would have been impossible for the officer to know at the time of the incident. Citing the ruling in Graham v. Connor, Rep. Fishbein noted that the Court wrote “The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
“I think we need to make clear that this law, without the amendment, will not only endanger peace officers, but also the communities they serve,” added Rep. O’Dea, Deputy Republican Leader and member of the Judiciary Committee. “Laws must be written as clearly and objectively as possible, especially in matters of public safety. Situations can escalate instantaneously, and if a police officer hesitates because of this new law, the consequences are on us because we rushed this law through without proper input from experts and members of the public.”
Unfortunately, this common-sense amendment seeking clarification for police officers failed along a party-line vote of 26-14.