"We Have to Change Policing"

State, City Consider Ways to Prevent Police Violence

Dave Mager
June 08, 2020 - 11:17 pm
CCSU Students Protest Against Racially Motivated Police Violence, CT State Capitol, 6/4/20

Dave Mager, WTIC News

To State Rep. Joshua Hall (D/Hartford), eliminating police brutality against African Americans is a matter of allowing citizens, not the police themselves, to determine the boundaries of acceptable officer behavior.

"It's the responsibility of police officers to serve and protect the public," says Rep. Hall, "So, from my perspective, it's the public that should get to determine how they wish to be served and protected." 

State lawmakers and municipal officials seem to agree that the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the nationwide, multi-racial mass protests that have followed represent a historic flashpoint in race relations:

Not only 'should' things change in American race relations, this time they 'will' change.

STATE TASK FORCE SEES OPPORTUNITY

"I've been doing this a while, and I've never seen anything like this," said Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, speaking Monday during a video meeting of the Police Transparency & Accountability Task Force, which was established last year and reports to the State Assembly. 

He added, "This is an opportunity. This is going to change behavior."

The task force, chaired by Daryl McGraw, the Senior Reentry Analyst at Central Connecticut State University, will weigh dozens of priorities expressed during Monday's meeting, then report to the State Assembly.

Some members believe that report should be put on the fast track.

Author and retired New Haven Police Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur is asking his peers on the task force to "get the pedal to the medal."

He's imploring the panel to be more action, less talk, especially by reducing stressful confrontations between officers and the poor. "We need to immediately remove from the Connecticut motor vehicle law... equipment violations. Police officers should not be tasked with pulling over citizens because their headlight is out, because their tire pressure is too low, because your inspection sticker has expired. That is not the work of police. I refer to these as 'racial profiling' laws."

Other suggestions floated during Monday's meeting include more training on how to de-escalate conflicts, more training hours and improving officers' listening skills.

THE UNION FACTOR

The task force heard from a police chief and a union official on strong police representation and whether it will embrace change.

Chief Mello, of Milford, suggests a second look at how municipalties relate to police unions, often known for their fierce defense of officers accused of violations: "I understand due process, and I understand the appeal process, and those are important. But sometimes, often, that gets in the way (of maintaining officer discipline)."

A longtime union official says that intra-department investigations are failing citizens. "We can't let police investigate police," says Hartford Police Union official John Szewczyk, "There has to be external, independent agencies investigating police officers." He says that some internal investigations are fair, but in many cases, longstanding relationships lead to officers protecting their own.

HARTFORD CITY COUNCIL ESTABLISHES INDEPENDENT PANEL

During an online hearing Monday night, the Hartford City Council voted to establish its own Police Accountability Review Board. 

Councilors, led by Majority Leader Thomas Clarke, Jr., have suggested that an independent board is needed to suggest measures to curtail racism and to limit use-of-force incidents. Mayor Luke Bronin says the city police department has improved in those areas, but can always look to get better.