GOLDRICK: Republican General Assembly candidates and incumbents from Greenwich got it wrong on Police Accountability Act

Sean Goldrick served four years on the Greenwich BET.

The Republican General Assembly candidates and incumbents from Greenwich all publicly oppose the Police Accountability Act, the most important civil rights legislation to be considered in Connecticut in decades.

Their reasons for opposing it simply don’t hold water.  Indeed, it’s unclear any of them even read the bill, as all five referenced the bill’s “41 sections”; it contains 46 sections.

Outgoing Republican state representative Livvy Floren (149th district- Back Country Greenwich, western and northern Stamford), asserts that since “We have in place a Police Accountability Task Force which is charged with substantive work and duties. Let’s allow the subject-matter experts the opportunity to recommend future policy changes.” In fact, Section 42, which her Republican colleagues sought to cut from the bill, requires the police accountability task force to make recommendations to the General Assembly related to implementation of new limited immunity, anticipated impact of that implementation, and details regarding liability insurance.

Kimberly Fiorello, the Republican candidate hoping to succeed Floren, claims that eliminating qualified immunity would “subject police officers and municipalities to lawsuits, even when they performed their duties pursuant to policies and procedures.”  Not true.  Section 41 requires municipalities to indemnify serving police officers, including an officer who “had an objectively good faith belief that his conduct did not violate the law.” Only if a court determines an officer deprived a person of his constitutional rights by committing a “malicious, wanton or willful act,” is limited immunity withdrawn.  

Ms Fiorello claims a police officer may be de-certified as an officer if his/ her “actions taken while off duty, is found to ‘undermine public confidence’ in police work,'” and questions “who decides how to define ‘undermine public confidence’ and could this be too vague a standard by which to measure our police?”  “Who decides” is specified in Section 1 (a): the Police Officer Standards and Training (“POST”) Council.  Though Section 1(g) tasks COST Council with developing additional standards for decertification, including acts that “undermine public confidence,”  Section 1(c) lays out in great detail the circumstances under which an officer may be decertified.
Objecting to the ban on military equipment to local police departments, Ms Fiorello claims that “our police should be able to use certain gear that improves their effectiveness and safety.  For example, night vision goggles leased from the U.S. Department of Defense are a big help when trying to find lost Alzheimer sufferers…in the dark.” Section 40 bans the acquisition of “a controlled firearm, ammunition, bayonet, grenade launcher, grenade, including stun and flash-bang, or an explosive,”   Night vision goggles are not banned.

Ms Fiorello claims that, “Missing from among the 41 sections of this bill is any mention of police department accreditation…Municipalities deciding to pursue state- or private-accreditation programs for their police departments is one idea for an intense, focused, professional, community-based way to address many of the issues the proposed bill…” In fact, Section 44 (c) clearly states: “On and after January 1, 2025, each law enforcement unit shall obtain and maintain accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.  If a law enforcement unit fails to obtain or maintain such accreditation, the council shall work with the law enforcement unit to obtain and maintain such accreditation.” 
Republican state rep candidate (150th district), Joe Kelly, claims that “with qualified immunity removed, any citizen who feels their rights have been abridged — regardless of the merit of their claim — can force an officer to come to court instead of allowing them to serve the community and do their jobs.”  Now, as before, residents have the right to bring suit for violation of their constitutional rights.  Connecticut courts determine whether charges are frivolous or meritorious.

Calling it a “radical bill,” Republican state senator candidate Ryan Fazio (36th district- Greenwich, northern Stamford, New Canaan) claims it “excessively ties the hands of police doing their job…the bill changes the standard for use of lethal force from threat of serious physical injury to a several-factor test that seems to include hindsight.”  

Mr Fazio doesn’t understand that the Police Accountability Act was created because police murdered George Floyd in broad daylight on a Minneapolis street corner.  Because the American people now understand that Black people are afflicted by an epidemic of police violence.  Because American police kill over a thousand people every year, more than three times as many relative to population as do Canadian police; four times as many as Australia; nearly 70 times as many as British police.  Because Black men are two and a half times more likely to be killed by police than Whites.  Because the people of Connecticut demand that police officers think carefully before killing another George Floyd, another Breonna Taylor, another Mubarak Soulemane in New Haven, another Jayson Negron in Bridgeport.

State Representative Anthony Nolan, an African-American police officer from New London who supported the bill, stated, “we are in the midst of an uprising from our communities. Police need to be held accountable.” Through their votes for the Police Accountability Act, Democrats passed the test of history.  These Republicans failed.