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Where Is the Accountability on Police Accountability?

Editorial

When the Police Accountability Bill was rushed through the Connecticut Legislature last summer, and passed without normal hearings or input, those who championed the legislation said they knew that flaws and loopholes existed but that they would be quickly fixed in special session. That never happened.

The Police Accountability Bill has many good elements and addresses topics that need to be discussed. Unfortunately, police chiefs across the state, including our own here in Greenwich, were left out of the legislative process and the consequence is a bill that is as harmful as it is helpful.

Now, almost a year later, the Judiciary Committee is hearing testimony on two subsequent bills that would make minor changes to the legislation. The first bill addresses how an Inspector General is appointed.

The second bill highlights one of many unintended consequences of the legislation. The second bill would clarify the wording of the use-of-force section, which is currently unusable in a real life situation. It would also push back the date that this particular section becomes law from April 1st of this year – less than 40 days from now – to October 1, 2022.

What concerns us most are the comments by Police Chief Keith Mello of Milford, who is also chair of the Police Officer Standards and Training Council. He said, “It’s critical that we have the time so we can provide clarity, direction, and guidance to our officers.” When asked what would happen if the bill stayed as is and went into effect April 1st, he said simply, “We’re not ready.”

This is scary stuff. Of course it makes sense that police departments cannot train and implement a policy based on language that is poorly written. Beyond that, they need time to train almost 9,000 police officers across the state in new policies.

Already the Police Accountability Bill is having adverse effects on the very people it was meant to protect. We know for a fact that homicides in our three largest cities; Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven are up 35 percent year over year. Gun violence is up 57 percent. But the correlation to the timing of the Bill’s implementation is startling.

The 2020 weekly data from CompStat for Hartford and New Haven actually shows a 22 percent decrease in shootings from January until May. From June to September there is a 66 percent increase but since October, when major provisions of the Police Accountability Bill went into effect, there has been a staggering 125 percent increase in gun violence.

If the legislature was unwilling to listen to our police chiefs before, they certainly should be willing now. The increase in shootings is horrific and unacceptable.

Instead, the legislature is ignoring the experts in law enforcement again, this time putting our children at risk. Bill No. 447, introduced by Senator Winfield of New Haven (who also introduced the Police Accountability Bill) is dangerous. It would remove Special Resource Officers (SROs) from our public schools. SROs are police officers assigned to schools. They act as a crime deterrent, a mentor, teacher and counselor to the students whom they protect.

Being forced to remove that deterrent could have disastrous repercussions. In the case of Greenwich High School, we have excellent SROs who are well liked and respected by the students, faculty, and parents alike. So much so that, when in 2018 SRO Carlos Franco stepped down after 11 years at GHS, the senior class asked him to be their commencement speaker.

Greenwich residents, parents, and students need to speak up now to let our delegation in Hartford know how they feel. As we have seen with the Police Accountability Bill, once a bill is forced through, it is almost impossible to fix and the consequences can be disastrous.

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