Equal Protection and Public Safety for All
By Ryan Fazio
When George Floyd was brutally killed in Minneapolis two months ago, our police departments in Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, and elsewhere in Connecticut, earnestly engaged the community. They showed open willingness to raise the already high bar they have set for good policing here.
Greenwich Chief Jim Heavey, for example, has advocated for police body cameras to increase transparency and expressed concern that it is too difficult to a fire bad officer in Connecticut, who are few but do their colleagues a massive disservice. Stamford Police Chief Shaw and New Canaan Chief Leon Krolikowski have been similarly forthright in their community engagement.
My Republican ticket-mates in Greenwich, including state Rep. Harry Arora, Kimberly Fiorello, and Joe Kelly, expressed our longstanding beliefs that equal justice under the law is a moral imperative and also that policing must be transparent and accountable. We have openly advocated for policing reforms along those lines. I have spoken out in favor of body cameras, more independent investigation of wrongdoing, reporting of all uses of police force, and more public disclosure of policing information.
Unfortunately, instead of bringing people together, Democratic leadership in the state legislature has used this crisis to advance a radical bill that passed the state House and will endanger vulnerable populations and police alike. The bill is sprawling and rushed with 41 sections but only one day of hearings over Zoom. It’s not responsible to bring vast change to a fundamental role of government in short time mostly over video chat.
There is a lot in the bill that I and other Republican candidates for the General Assembly eagerly support. But the problems with the bill dwarf them and induced several Democrats in the state House to vote against the bill with Republicans.
The first general flaw is that it excessively ties the hands of police doing their job. For example, the bill changes the standard for use of lethal force from threat of serious physical injury to a several-factor test that seems to include hindsight. Put yourself in the position of an earnest officer being physically attacked and having to go through a mental checklist of several factors before you defend yourself. It also bars officers from doing searches with the consent of motorists stopped for a traffic violation.
The second big flaw is that it creates major liability for police forced into difficult positions. As is, if an officer breaks the law while on duty, he or she is rightly subject to prosecution under criminal law. But this bill will make local police departments subject to more civil lawsuits now too, which is a major departure. This change will force police departments to second guess how closely they can police communities in need of protection. The one constituency that will clearly benefit from this provision is trial lawyers, who are often the chief beneficiaries of progressive Democrats in the state government.
These factors will bring risk to the lives of innocent citizens in the most vulnerable neighborhoods in Fairfield County. We are blessed with a lot of social capital in our community that adds a layer of protection even if this bill passes. But consider the danger that citizens across the country now face as police pull back. In the last four weeks, homicides in Chicago have skyrocketed 190 percent over year, from 40 to 116. Many children are among those victims, including thirteen-year-old Amaria Jones killed by a stray bullet fired outside while in her own home. Unspeakable tragedy unfolding every day now.
Unequal protection under the law endangers the weak and must always be thwarted. Likewise, surging violence brought about by de-policing hurts poor, struggling communities the most. Compassion requires that we always fight for equal protection under the law and public safety for everyone in Connecticut.
For those reasons, I urge my opponent and her colleagues in the state Senate to listen to our noble police officers and other community leaders speaking out against this radical legislation. Vote down the de-policing bill for the sake of those in greatest need.
Ryan Fazio is a candidate for the 36th state Senate district, covering Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan.