NEW HAVEN — Winchester Police Chief William Fitzgerald says his department has updated its policies since the state’s law enforcement accountability bill was passed, but the reality is that his officers know “use of force should be one of the last resorts for an arrest.”
Like police departments across Connecticut, Fitzgerald is looking at policies, including the one under which police officers now are expressly required to step in when witnessing another officer using excessive force, as the “duty to intervene,” a section of the police reform bill passed into law by the legislature earlier this year, went into effect on Oct. 1.
State Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, a co-sponsor of the bill, noted that it was passed as legislators dealt with the “shock” of the death of George Floyd while being restrained by police in Minneapolis, with hopes of preventing such an incident from occurring in Connecticut.
“It‘s clearly geared for a situation like that,” said Looney.
Under the law, as described by the Office of Legislative Research’s analysis of the bill, police and corrections officers are required “to intervene and attempt to stop” colleagues “from using force that the witnessing officer objectively knows is unreasonable, excessive, or illegal.”
Under the law, if officers in such circumstances do not intervene, they can be charged with the same offenses as the officer inappropriately wielding force.
Officers also are required to report such inappropriate uses of force to their superiors, facing a potential 10-year prison sentence for hindering prosecution if they do not.
Law enforcement agencies and the state Department of Correction also are prohibited from retaliating against any officer who reports such incidents as part of the measure.
Looney said he had not heard of particular concerns from police about this section of the bill, though other aspects of the bill did raise concerns. One of those issues was government immunity; the law passed allows governmental immunity as a defense to a claim for damages when, “the police officer had an objectively good faith belief that such officer’s conduct did not violate the law.”
Police in New Haven, West Haven, Bridgeport and Winsted said the new requirement on duty to intervene should not represent a dramatic shift for their respective departments.
New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes, noting at the department’s recent Compstat meeting that the change was going into effect, said a version of the language already was included in the city department’s policies.
“There is nothing … with regard to the duty to intervene that we did not already have incorporated into our policy. What we will be doing is making a standalone policy, to just to highlight the stipulations,” said Reyes. “But in terms of expectations and standards for the department, it’s one that we pride ourselves (on) for years now.”
Scott Appleby, emergency management director for the city of Bridgeport, pointed to the Bridgeport Police Department’s code of conduct, saying Deputy Chief James Baraja indicated the requirement was covered there before the new