Peace Officers: Strengthen Communities


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In the last session of the Connecticut General Assembly, a bill — SB 380 — to help support more transparency in police — now called peace-officers throughout the state of Connecticut was introduced and subsequently signed into law by Governor Lamont.

At the time, SB 380 was an important bill. Now in light of the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, it is an even more important bill.

The bill’s ramifications are important for police accountability to the public. It is crucial because it stipulates that camera footage of incidents by police ​cameras ​must be released to the public within a maximum of ninety-six hours. This increases public awareness of incidents of potential police violence.

As well, police departments statewide must prepare a use of force report for the previous year and submit it to the Office of Policy and Management. The report must include demographic data such as the race and gender of an individual that force was used upon – a critical tool for the public and law enforcement to identify potential racial disparities in how force is applied throughout the entire state.

In any instance when deadly force is used by police officers, or when death results from injury caused by a police officer (such as the Derek Chauvin’s kneeling that resulted in the death of George Floyd), the Division of Criminal Justice is required to conduct a timely investigation to be presented to the Chief State’s Attorney for further action.

Despite the positive trend towards accountability that the bill provides, 60 members of the CT House of Representatives voted against SB 380.

It is more important now than ever to have greater transparency with our peace officers. We should move swiftly to make serious changes to improve accountability to the taxpayers who fund the police. We should mandate greater oversight and accountability; reporting of all traffic stops; and professional licensing boards that should review instances of misconduct. Name badges and identification should be on officer’s uniforms while on duty.

Let us come up with more and even better solutions moving into 2020 and beyond! Community involvement with peace officers will develop greater collaboration within the community.

We are proud that in East Lyme, Police Chief Finklestein publishes a monthly report that is available on the town webpage that shows all the data in terms of who they stop and their reasons. How could this be improved and result in better outcomes for our community?

All of these arrests and jailings have a huge impact on the community — it is estimated that one inmate at jail costs over $46,000. Currently in East Lyme we average a per pupil cost of approximately $18,000 annually. Incarceration is costly and expensive.

What if we took the money appropriated for public safety and reappointed funding for social services, recreation, arts, humanities? Those returning from incarceration need support systems for successful reintegration. Locating adequate housing, transportation, and employment is just the start their journey to come back into society.

The 2020 budget for East Lyme included a 9.15% increase in police spending. Though the police serve a crucial role where force and detainment are needed, where those outcomes are not desired, people without a badge and a gun should be there to help.

For example, for those struggling with drug addiction, an arrest and incarceration only serves to further overpopulate prisons while not fixing the root causes of addiction. Given Connecticut’s struggle with opioid addiction, perhaps spending is best shifted towards counseling and treatment centers.

There are countless opportunities.

Steel is the endorsed Democratic candidate for the 37th District state house seat for East Lyme and Salem. Some information in this article was obtained through research of the CGA, and through recent interviews called “Chat with Cate.”

Note: This opinion piece was re-edited at the request of the author