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Connecticut Adopts Police Reform Measures, Including 'Governmental Immunity'

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public
State Sen. Gary Winfield (D) and other members of the state legislature's Black and Puerto Rican caucus celebrate the passage of comprehensive police reform earlier in the week. Winfield addressed the bill Friday before Gov. Ned Lamont signed it into law.

Some of the more controversial aspects of police reform that’ve been debated on the streets of Connecticut are now law.

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On Friday, Gov. Ned Lamont signed the comprehensive police accountability legislation approved in a recent special session of the Connecticut General Assembly. The law addresses police use of force, training and officers’ civil liability.

Lamont said the bill wasn’t anti-police. Then, he formally signed it.

“It’s not a knock on anybody -- we have a lot of great police, but we can do better,” Lamont said. “We as political folks, police -- we have to continue to earn the respect of our community.”

That sentiment was echoed throughout Friday’s ceremonial bill signing, which began with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz saying that state government values “the men and women in blue.”

Members of Connecticut state and municipal law enforcement implored lawmakers to rethink their position, particularly on the topic of qualified immunity. Recently, representatives from the Connecticut State Police Union took to the state Capitol building for a show of solidarity against what they believe are on the way -- frivolous lawsuits against police officers.

“Every single cop in this state should not have to worry about being arrested and prosecuted or being financially bankrupt because they’re doing a job for the employer,” Andrew Matthews, the union’s executive director, told Connecticut Public Radio on July 23.

The reform bill passed through the state Senate earlier this week but not before it was debated for 10 hours, with much of the discussion centered on the qualified immunity provision.

Proponents of the bill say exemplary police officers shouldn’t be concerned about out-of-pocket payouts to those asserting misconduct. Despite an update to “governmental immunity” in the law, Connecticut law enforcement remains indemnified against civil liability unless they’ve engaged in what’s termed “malicious, willful and wanton” conduct.

One of the authors of the bill, state Sen. Gary Winfield (D-New Haven/West Haven) addressed civil liability at Friday’s bill signing.

“There’s some particularly important parts of the bill,” Winfield said, “including the use of force part of the bill and the most controversial part of the bill [governmental immunity], and I think when you put those parts together, it offers the public that may see law enforcement in a way that’s a little different than some of us see something that they can believe in.”

The state’s police transparency and accountability task force will study the language in the law related to police use of force and governmental immunity in December. Based on their research, they may make recommendations to state lawmakers.

Frankie Graziano is the host of 'The Wheelhouse,' focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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