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House GOP bucked police accountability

Sure, some of Connecticut's Republican lawmakers have lately been attending Black Lives Matters protests and are talking up more scrutiny of police, now that it has become part of a fire hose of national public opinion.

But Republicans were largely their uncommitted selves on the subject as recently as last year, as the General Assembly addressed police accountability, during a year in which six people were killed in Connecticut police shootings.

Democrats managed to pass SB 380, "An Act Concerning the Use of Force and Pursuits by Police and Increasing Police Accountability," with little help from Republicans.

Gov. Ned Lamont signed it into law, creating, among other things, a Police Transparency Accountability Task Force, which is helping inform new legislative police responsibility proposals that could be taken up as early as this summer.

Actually, Senate Republicans were yes votes last year, and the bill passed unanimously in that body. But House Republicans remained unanimously against the measures to hold police more accountable, and the bill cleared the House along party lines.

All of eastern Connecticut's Republican delegates to the House voted against the accountability initiatives, which included requiring the timely release of body camera and dashboard videos, banning police from shooting into fleeing vehicles in most circumstances and establishing new data systems for reporting police use of force.

Reps. Devin Carney of Old Lyme, Holy Cheeseman of East Lyme, Kathleen McCarty of Waterford, Doug Dubitsky of Chaplin and Mike France of Ledyard were all no votes.

Shame on them.

Even Rep. Anthony Nolan of New London, a police officer, voted for more police accountability.

After all, Connecticut police chiefs and the state's chief prosecutor were consulted and on board with the legislation.

House Republicans at the time deployed many of the usual excuses for resisting common-sense lawmaking that might offend their core constituents, complaining about the process or the language of the legislation.

Some, though, were openly hostile to the notion of holding police more accountable and more closely examining police use of force.

"We shouldn't be dictating what they can and cannot do to keep our communities safe," Rep. J.P. Sredzinski of Monroe was quoted saying by the Middletown Press.

It's an unimaginable comment, especially now that we've all seen the video of George Floyd being executed on a public street in Minneapolis.

But even before then, a clear majority of Connecticut lawmakers understood that, not only do the citizens' elected representatives have a responsibility to dictate how police conduct themselves but there needs to be transparency and accountability for that conduct.

House Republicans, including the significant number in eastern Connecticut's delegation, disagreed.

The authors of the legislation apparently had the foresight to envision the expanding public awareness of the problem that George Floyd's killing has created. The task force on police accountability brought to life by last year's legislation is already envisioning the next approaches to the problem.

Some of the 20 preliminary recommendations from the task force include banning chokeholds, requiring body cameras for all officers, mandatory psychiatric evaluations in recertification, ending police stops for equipment failures like brake lights, community oversight of all police departments, as well as a reformed civilian complaint process.

Now that many Republican House members appear prepared to pivot to a new public awareness on this issue, be sure to pay attention to how they voted on it last year.

If you see one at a Black Lives Matter protest, ask them why it took a police killing in Minnesota, and not police shootings here in Connecticut, to make them finally consider reasonable police accountability measures.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com 

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