Two Bills Passed in Special Session Promoting Police Officer Training, Option for Towns to Equip Police with Body Cameras, Criminal Justice Reforms

HartfordSenate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven), Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore Kevin Witkos (R-Canton), and Senator John A. Kissel (R-Enfield), Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, applauded the General Assembly’s bipartisan passage of two justice and judicial bills in today’s special legislative session.

House Bill 7103 An Act Concerning Excessive Use of Force was passed by both the Senate and House today. A similar bill was passed by the Senate in a unanimous vote during the regular legislative session but time ran out before it came up for a vote in the House of Representatives.

The bill aims to increase police training and provides incentives to municipalities to equip police officers with body cameras while on duty and interacting with the public.

Also passed today was House Bill 7104 An Act Implementing Provisions of the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June 30, 2017 Concerning General Government Provisions Relating to Criminal Justice. A similar bill was passed during the regular session in the Senate but was not called for a vote in the House.

“Connecticut should be proud of the passage of these two very important pieces of legislation,” said Sen. Fasano. “The excessive force bill protects both the public and our police officers by taking a proactive approach to address the serious issue of excessive force while also protecting officers from false claims of abuse. The ‘Second Chance Society’ legislation recognizes that drug use is a public health issue, not always a criminal issue. It takes a strong stand in penalties for drug sales, while implementing a more realistic approach to reduce drug use and recidivism.”

“Both bills represent a cooperative and collaborative effort to improve public safety, help police do their jobs, and better our communities for everyone, everywhere,” said Sen. Witkos.

“The excessive force bill enables towns to rise to the challenge of equipping their officers with new technology to help protect them as well as the public. It is not a mandate, but rather an opportunity,” said Sen. Kissel. “The Second Chance Society bill also is an opportunity – an opportunity to help nonviolent offenders access the rehabilitation tools they need to get their lives back on track.”

“I want to thank Senator Looney, Senator Duff, Senator Coleman, Senator Winfield, Senator Kissel, Senator Witkos, our colleagues in the House, and the legislature’s Black & Puerto Rican Caucus for their ability to collaborate and open the conversation on these very important issues. As a result of an open dialogue, we have strong legislation that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can stand behind,” said Fasano.

 

Excessive Force Legislation

The excessive force bill addresses police use of body cameras as follows:

  • Does not mandate body cameras, but creates an incentive for police departments to voluntarily equip officers with body cameras. Incentive is in the form of a grant in aid reimbursement program including a 100% reimbursement for implementation and storage of information for the first year. Police units that plan to equip in the second year will receive a 50% reimbursement rate.
  • Requires the Commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) and Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) to work together to create a list of acceptable body cameras.
  • Includes provisions for the utilization of body cameras including when and where cameras need to be turned on.

 

Other elements of the bill would:

  • Require police units to enhance outreach and make efforts to recruit, retain and promote minority officers in communities with a high concentration of minority residents.
  • Require tactical training for police officers regarding the use of physical force, training in the use of body cameras, and cultural sensitivity and bias-free police training.
  • Require police officers to note if there is use of force in a situation when carrying out their duties and keep track of this information.
  • In cases involving use of deadly force, the Chief State’s Attorney will appoint someone outside of the county to conduct an investigation.
  •  Prohibits police officers from interfering with a person recording them, aside from specified exempt situations such as to preserve the integrity of a crime scene or for reasons of public safety.

 

“Second Chance Society” Legislation

The Second Chance bill makes the following changes to the state’s criminal justice laws regarding drug possession and drug free school zones:

Statewide Changes

  • Makes the crime of drug possession a misdemeanor for the first two offenses.  In addition to the applicable penalty, the person must participate in a drug evaluation and treatment program if found to be drug dependent. The legislation also specifies that the amount of drugs involved in the arrest must be for personal use (not more than amounts indicated in existing possession with intent to sell law State Statute 21a-278).
  • Requires third and subsequent convictions be punishable as felonies

Structure:

  • 1st possession violation anywhere would be a Class A Misdemeanor
  • 2nd arrest for possession anywhere would be a Class A Misdemeanor and offender would be required to undergo a drug evaluation. If evaluation finds an individual to be “drug dependent” that individual would be able to go into a drug treatment program.
  • 3rd violation, offender would be charged as a “persistent offender” of controlled substances position. This would be a Class E Felony, with a jail sentence of 1-3 years.

School Zone Changes

  • Maintains the state’s 1500 foot drug free school zones for sale as well as for possession convictions. Any conviction in school zone will require jail time, but not mandatory minimums.
  • Drug sale charges within a school zone penalties remain the same as current law
  • Any drug possession violation within a school zone is a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by some term of imprisonment and parole plus community service for the first two offenses. Third violation would be a Class E Felony.

The legislation also includes changes to the Board of Pardons and Parole to improve victim notification regarding parole actions.

Posted by Chris

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