The State Senate approved a delay in provisions of last summer’s wide-ranging police accountability bill that would restrict when officers are allowed to use deadly force.
The Senate voted 30-3 to pass the legislation, which will delay the starting date of new use-of-force standards implemented in the police accountability bill until Jan. 1, 2022, and amends language in those guidelines to ease some thresholds for action.
The bill now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont for his signature.
State Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, was one of three senators who voted against the bill. Bradley explained that when the legislature approved the legislation last year, lawmakers were asking for justice for everyone, and that police be held to a “reasonable and prudent” standard for the use of force.
“What Sen. Winfield has done [with last year’s legislation] has been a monumental piece of legislation, and I cannot see it, piece by piece, be torn apart,” Bradley said. “What we’re asking for is for everybody who wears the badge to uphold that badge and to serve every single person.”
State Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, and State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, also voted against the changes, which unanimously passed the House last week.
State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, chair of the Judiciary Committee and a chief proponent of the accountability bill passed last summer, said he generally agreed with Bradley, bu said that the legislature also has to ensure that police have had enough time to be trained in the new law before it takes effect, or else it could be overturned by a lawsuit. If that happened, Winfield said, the public could believe they have protections that they don’t have.
The use of force guidelines were scheduled to take effect on April 1, next Thursday.
“There are times when we have to do things that I think, intuitively we probably would not do, but that are ultimately the thing that we should do,” Winfield said.
The bill also changes the language of the use of force guidelines approved last summer, a move that the ACLU has criticized as rolling back those standards.
Under new guidelines approved as part of 2020 police accountability bill, police can only use deadly force when they reasonably believe they are defending themselves or others from deadly force, or when they have “exhausted reasonable alternatives” to deadly force and determined it doesn’t pose a “substantial” risk to third parties.
If Lamont signs the legislation, the previous threshold that an officer has “exhausted the reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly, physical force” will instead require that an officer must “reasonably determine” that there are no alternatives.
Winfield said the new language was meant to clarify that officers should take into account that there are alternatives to deadly force, and that they should weigh them before making a decision on the use of force.
State Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, said the changes are better than what the legislature approved last year, but are not perfect.
“At least it gives officers a chance to continue to do their jobs and be able to defend themselves, and defend others,” Champagne said.