Last summer, in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Connecticut General Assembly took action by passing Public Act 20-1 “An Act Concerning Police Accountability.”
Since its passage, police officers in the state have raised real and legitimate concerns about the impacts the new law will have on them personally and upon how they can safely perform their jobs.
As a community, we should prioritize the safety of our police officers as they fulfill their vital roles of enforcing our laws. While there have been instances where fault can be found with the ways some rogue police officers have performed their work in jurisdictions outside of Connecticut, Public Act 20-1 provided an answer to a problem that evidently did not exist in Connecticut.
As someone who has represented police officers for almost twenty-five years, I have seen the toll that the performance of police work can take on individual officers. A lack of public support, sufficient and regular training, and adequate manpower has served to exacerbate low morale while also spotlighting the exceptional work our police officers do even when poorly resourced.
In the midst of a pandemic where employees everywhere were told to stay home and hunker down, Connecticut’s police officers were on the front lines facing daily exposures to a virus that has killed nearly half a million Americans. While it has been easy for some to magnify the occasional failures of police officers’ performance in other jurisdictions, few have been as loud in touting the selfless duty performed by police officers all over our state in a time of national emergency.
Now, as our General Assembly has once again convened to tackle the legislative needs of Connecticut in 2021, one Senator, Gary Holder Winfield of New Haven has unilaterally determined that the problems with his Police Accountability Law will not be addressed this year.
In the meantime, police officers are left to wonder daily if the actions they have been trained to take in protecting themselves and the public will be twisted in order to impose criminal liability or financial penalty upon them. The results from this uncertainty are now making themselves clear.
Criminal activity is on the rise. Neighborhoods that demand law enforcement are being left to flounder as officers are told to avoid standard enforcement procedures. The most vulnerable in our communities are less protected, not more protected.
There are clear pathways to improving law enforcement in Connecticut without resorting to finger-pointing and blame of those who bravely wear the badge.
More and better training of officers would be a good start. But training requires funding and the legislators who have been quick to impose restraints on our officers have not been so eager to open the books to pay for quality training.
A clear delineation of the roles we expect our police officers to play in the community would also help to eliminate confusion and uncertainty on the part of the public and our officers as they go about doing their jobs. A cop cannot be expected to be a teacher, a social worker, a psychologist, a nurse, and an enforcer all in a day’s work. It is unfair to the officer and unfair to the public that the officer serves.
The problem therefore demands that additional personnel be added to police departments and those personnel be given clearly defined roles in performing the law enforcement function in a community.
Finally, the job of police officer is not one that can be expected to be done by a person for decades. For some, five years may be enough. For others, movement from patrol into investigations or administrative management may be necessary in order to keep the officer engaged and fresh. We need to take a look at what our expectations are of the special individuals who commit to entering the field of law enforcement. And then we need to provide them with the support and the tools needed to keep them fit from a physical, emotional, financial, social, and career development standpoint.
Senator Winfield, with all due respect, has gotten it wrong. The cops are not the bad guys. They are, and always have been, the good guys.