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CT bill would make it a crime for police to falsify records

Anderson Curtis, a senior policy organizer with the ACLU of Connecticut, testifies in favor of a bill that attempts to turn certain motor vehicle violations into “secondary violations” and restrain police from stopping vehicles only to enforce one of the offenses.
Jaden Edison
/
CT Mirror
Anderson Curtis, a senior policy organizer with the ACLU of Connecticut, testifies in favor of a bill that attempts to turn certain motor vehicle violations into “secondary violations” and restrain police from stopping vehicles only to enforce one of the offenses.

The Connecticut legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard public testimony on Wednesday about bills that would explicitly make it a crime for police to intentionally falsify information and prohibit officers from stopping vehicles only to enforce secondary traffic violations.

Proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont, House Bill 5055 would make it a Class D felony for officers to knowingly make false written statements or enter false information into a law enforcement record and explicitly make those acts a basis for decertification of an officer’s policing license. Officials have shared concerns that the existing laws do not sufficiently make it clear that intentionally falsifying data in computer systems is a crime.

And House Bill 5324 attempts to turn certain motor vehicle violations, such as failing to have two working headlights or possessing tinted windows not in compliance with state law, into “secondary violations” and restrain police from stopping vehicles only to enforce one of the offenses. A similar bill advanced out of the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 25 to 11 last year but did not receive a vote in the House.

The State Police bill is backed by the Lamont administration, the Division of Criminal Justice and the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which has encountered criticism over the last year for “significant failures” by the agency to correct deficiencies with the reporting of racial profiling data and officers found to have falsified ticketing data.

There are ongoing federal and state investigations into the ticketing scandal.

“The bill appropriately recognizes the vast majority of the police in the state of Connecticut act with integrity in all their actions,” DESPP Commissioner Ronnell Higgins testified on Wednesday. “But the bill sends a strong message that any intentional misreporting of data, by even a select few, is a serious transgression.”

But the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and legislators from both political parties have expressed concerns that the bill singles out police who intentionally falsify information and excludes others who access and work with law enforcement records.

“The language could have easily been written to apply to any person who falsifies a police record,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said in written testimony. “In fact, it is a matter of common sense and basic fairness that two individuals who commit the same illegal conduct should be guilty of the same crime.”

During the public hearing, Higgins said that he had not contemplated the agency’s stance on a potential expansion of the measure to include all personnel who handle police records. Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, a Judiciary Committee co-chair, requested that the commissioner provide feedback to the group before its April 1 deadline to advance legislation.

Higgins also did not offer a position on the bill regarding secondary traffic violations when asked by Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, a ranking Republican on the committee.

Developed by the disbanded Connecticut Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force, whose membership consisted of some law enforcement, the legislation has received backing from national and local advocacy groups who say it would allow police to prioritize reckless driving and help decrease racial disparities in traffic enforcement.

Out of more than 270,000 stops conducted in 2021, Black drivers in Connecticut comprised 19% of the people pulled over, despite making up roughly 13% of the state population, a disparity that did not exist for white and Hispanic drivers.

Racial disparities are also significant for equipment and administrative offenses, according to a 2021 memo from the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board. On average, 54% of equipment-related violations and 58% of administrative offenses involved white drivers, compared to 46% and 42% for non-white drivers, respectively.

“I think it’s important to remember that the motor vehicle code includes almost 700 reasons to stop a car,” Ken Barone, who manages the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, which collects and analyzes traffic stop data in Connecticut, testified on Wednesday. “It is virtually impossible for anybody to get behind the wheel of their car and not have some technical violation that they are committing.”

Barone highlighted that the legislation only deals with a few of the motor vehicle violations defined in state law.

Anderson Curtis, a senior policy organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, testified that the experience of being arrested and incarcerated can make routine traffic stops more traumatizing for people who have had negative encounters with police.

“My instinct overpowers, overrules and overwhelms my logic,” said Curtis, speaking about a time when he was pulled over for not wearing his seat belt. “I believe I’m about to go back to jail.”

New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson, speaking on behalf of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said there needs to be further discussion between police officials and the legislature to flesh out safety concerns.

“It seems counterintuitive to further reduce enforcement of traffic-related offenses at a time where traffic safety is among the most pressing public safety issues,” Jacobson testified.

The Judiciary Committee will likely vote on the two bills near the end of the month. If approved, they would go to the full legislature for further debate.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

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