Criminal Justice Reform

Let me say unequivocally: Black Lives Matter.

The Black Lives Matter emerged from a very real problem we have in this country, which is widespread racism, woven into our criminal justice system and linked directly all the way back to the 13th Amendment.  Racism is behind the disproportionate number of Black lives that are both targeted by police, and incarcerated.  It is time for us all step up and say clearly, “Enough.” 

I reject the argument that support for the Black Lives Matter means a person is anti-police.  I can easily support both racial justice reform while appreciating and advocating for police who act with integrity and a high degree of professionalism.    I reject calls to “defund the police,” which I find to be insulting to our police departments.  Appropriately funding social services, and providing the correct service for the problem at hand is not accomplished better through unnecessary belligerence. 

Ultimately, I believe we must address criminal justice reform on a national level, rather than continuing the process where states are fighting piecemeal to forge a path forward. In June of this year, 166 U.S. Representatives and 35 Senators, along with many others, introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which I support. It is a historic and comprehensive approach which seeks to change the culture of law enforcement and build trust between law enforcement and our communities on a nationwide basis. The effort will undoubtedly face challenges as well, but we cannot sit back and watch as the list of names of black individuals murdered at the hands of bad police officers behaving with impunity continues to grow.

The ACT proposes to:

  • Prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, and mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
  • Bans chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
  • Mandates the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
  • Establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave on agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
  • Amends federal criminal statute from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard to successfully identify and prosecute police misconduct.
  • Reforms qualified immunity so that individuals are not barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights.
  • Establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches.
  • Creates law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices and requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations based on President Obama’s Taskforce on 21st Century policing.
  • Requires state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
  • Improves the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and creates a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
  • Establishes a Department of Justice task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution and enforcement efforts of federal, state and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights organizations including: Demand Progress, Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, National African American Clergy Network, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), Black Millennial Convention, and the National Urban League.

Full text of the legislation is available here.

A section-by-section summary of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is available here.

A fact sheet on the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is available 
here.

This past summer, Gov. Ned Lamont signed the police accountability bill into law. The new law will represent some of the biggest changes to law enforcement in the state in decades. It was an important step towards restoring trust between law enforcement and our communities, but is already facing legal challenges, and there is a coordinated effort to misinform Connecticut voters about what the law actually says and does. I’m not surprised that in this election year, support for the law is polling poorly, but when I say that I believe it is time to stand up for racial justice, I mean it. I have considered, carefully, the measures addressed within the law and believe it is a worthy and necessary effort to address at least part of problems which have become embedded in our criminal justice system.

One of the most contentious portions of the law centers around the issue of qualified immunity, which has been cast as a lack of understanding for the dangers faced by police officers.  But the under the law, which applies in civil cases only, police would lose their immunity only if a judge or jury can show an officer acted willfully and wantonly to the wrong. This is a reasonable legal hurdle, and addresses head on the need for officers to be held to a reasonable standard. The claims that it will add significant costs to town budgets is contrary to any reasonable analysis of where financial risk is placed – which is on police officers who are determined by either a judge or jury to have acted wrongfully, willfully and wantonly.