|Lamont and police accountability law|
The ceremonial signing of Connecticut’s new police reform law and the consequent messaging by Governor Ned Lamont, some may have discovered, was dizzyingly confusing. Nearly everything touched by Lamont, sooner or later, becomes fuzzy on its edges.
“Lamont signs police reforms, but tells cops, ‘You’re my heroes’” reads the headline on one publication.
The “but” in that headline is meant to caution the reader – confusion ahead. If the reforms were necessary, police across the state could not be heroes, because the reforms, as we’ve been told countless times by the reformers, are intended to change the unwonted, non-heroic behaviors of police officers. And, since the new law is a state law that applies to all police in Connecticut, not merely a handful of police officers who stray from right-behavior, we must suppose that all officers in Connecticut, in the absence of necessary reforms, show a tendency to slide into unheroic behavior bordering on Jim-Crowism.
State Senator Gary Winfield, who both co-wrote and whipped the reforms through the Democrat dominated General Assembly, has described the intent of the new law without a hint of ambiguity. “Every tool that we have thrown at this system,” Winfield told his colleagues in the State Senate, “the system has continued to maintain itself. And by that I mean when people, particularly Black (sic) people, seek justice when aggrieved by police officers, they have a hard time finding it… We can have all these hypotheticals and all of the stuff you want to talk about. I’ve heard it all,” Winfield said. “But there’s no justice for those people. And that means no justice for me.” Winfield is African American. “And if there’s no justice for me, there’s no justice for those people. And what you call justice is injustice.”
The purpose of the Winfield bill is to eliminate residual effects of slavery among Connecticut’s police, chiefly by eliminating partial immunity and allowing those nursing social grievances, like Winfield, their day and week and month and year and decade in court.
The Winfield bill, despite supporters' insistence that the bill will not change liability among police officers, will open a new door to expensive suits brought by the aggrieved -- anyone, African American or not -- who have suffered indignities through perceived aggressive policing. Suits need not be successful to be effective deterrents to actions deemed unjust. The prospect of running the judicial knout may convince – indeed, already has convinced -- seasoned police officers and possible police recruits to think twice before joining an organization that may leave them for years at the mercy of a tortuous, asset-draining legal process.
A day after Lamont signed into law the new police reforms, some of which are efficacious, a piece appearing in a Hartford paper, “Officers weigh future after new law,” found numerous officers looking for the exit signs.
Bill Young, a Manchester police officer for 24 years, said “If I could have left yesterday, I would have left yesterday,” even though the bill will not take effect until a year after passage.
Outgoing Speaker of the State House Joe Arsimowicz unreeled a spiel designed to assure new police recruits and old police hands that the bill contained a codicil that would prevent unjust repercussions. In addition to protecting citizens “constitutional rights,” the bill eliminating partial immunity would “also protect law enforcement officers… from personal liability when acting in good faith as part of their job… Only the few who knowingly act in a malicious and intentional way to violate somebody’s constitutional rights continue [under the legislation] to be impacted.” Arsimowicz warned officers not to be seduced by “a lot of information that is being, put out” by, among others, Winfield, who had characterized his bill as a prophylactic that would ameliorate perceived injustices through civil suits holding municipalities and police officers legally responsible for behaviors deemed unjust by aggrieved parties.
Police officers, targets of the legislation, were not buying the sales pitch for multiple reasons. First, the bill was hastily ushered through the state House by legislators who, following passage, adjourned sine die so that the mischievous partial immunity provision could not be adjusted by the State Senate and returned to the House for reaffirmation before being sent on to Lamont for his signature. Second, even the abbreviated discussion on the bill in both chambers had convinced the bill’s targets of the measure’s intent – to adjust perceived unjust behavior on the part of police through the prospect of punishing and expensive suits and complex process action. Third, those voting affirmatively on the abolition of partial immunity had not properly weighed the abbreviated testimony against the provision. Fourth, politics, the worm in the process apple, had been apparent when the bill had been first introduced in the House. Other than preventing robust police actions upholding past laws written by the legislature – every one of which might more easily have been repealed by lawmakers – the House bill appeared to have been designed by its authors to garner votes from people nursing grievances they had suffered in the past from officers the great majority of whom were operating from within a law enforcement box created by lawmakers.
After appending his signature to the bill, Lamont sought to reassure jittery police officers. “Look, it’s important to continue to build bridges,” the governor said. “There is a lot of misinformation about this bill and virtually everything that happens in this state.” The purpose of the post-signing press conference, Lamont said, was “to show both confidence in the legislation and to give police confidence that ‘we’ve got their back.’”
Police across the state have yet to be convinced that a target has not been painted on their backs so that politicians who “have their backs” will use them for campaign target practice.