Police departments in Connecticut and throughout the country — especially in cities, like Bridgeport, but also in some suburbs, like Enfield — are having trouble recruiting police officers.
It’s a tough job and getting tougher amid social disintegration and the virus epidemic. Murders and other violent crimes are up and respect for the police is down among many people because of well-publicized misconduct.
In Connecticut police officers and potential candidates for police jobs have been discouraged by the recent enactment of accountability legislation, which has caused them to suspect that government won’t stand behind them in controversy.
But even tough jobs require accountability, and Connecticut’s recent legislation would not have been enacted if there had not been much misconduct that passed without accountability even though some of it was recorded.
For example, six years ago four state troopers were caught on an audio recording fabricating evidence against a man who protested a drunken-driving checkpoint in West Hartford. While the state paid $50,000 to settle the man’s lawsuit, no troopers were disciplined.
Two years ago September many state troopers attended a retirement party in Oxford, some of them driving away after drinking, contrary to regulations, one of them driving drunk in a state car and causing a serious accident. The purported investigation still isn’t done and no discipline has been imposed.
A year ago in May a state trooper was caught on video inflicting a crazed rant on a motorist he had stopped on Interstate 95 in New Haven, cursing and threatening the man and destroying some of his possessions before letting him go without arrest or a ticket. The video was posted on the internet and embarrassed Connecticut internationally. The trooper’s discipline was only a two-day suspension.
A year ago in January a state trooper shot and killed a mentally ill man, Mubarak Soulemane, 19, who was sitting in a stopped car with the doors closed and windows rolled up after a chase that ended in West Haven. Soulemane had hijacked the car at knifepoint in Norwalk and is no martyr. But police video of the incident fails to show that he posed any threat when he was shot. The shooting seems to have been caused by the trooper’s panic and rage. But 18 months have passed, the investigation still isn’t done, and no action has been taken.
In July the Danbury Police Department released body camera video showing officers verbally abusing and threatening a man who had been taking video inside the city’s library. The man may have disconcerted people but he violated no law or regulation.
One officer said to another: “Five years ago with this ******, he would have been on the ******* ground.” The colleague replied, “Absolutely.”
The first officer continued: “And 20 years ago, that ****** would be dead. He’d be ******. His teeth would be missing.”
The two officers and two others were disciplined lightly. But at least the first officer was right about what might have happened five and 20 years ago. Indeed, 50 years ago at a school in Norwich three state troopers murdered two unarmed burglars and then planted a gun on them and lied about it. The troopers got off easy on perjury charges.
These are among the many reasons for the accountability legislation.
As crime has increased lately and teenagers in Connecticut have been emboldened to steal cars and even shoot at people in the confidence that the secretive juvenile justice system will excuse them, the clamor from the crazy left to “defund the police” has died down. Most people know that police officers are far more sinned against than sinning.
But then police officers, like members of other professions, are very much in charge of how much respect they maintain. With so many police cruisers and officers now equipped with video cameras, that respect will not be maintained by concealing, denying, or overlooking misconduct.
People want to appreciate the police and usually do. But every incident of an officer’s misconduct makes the work of all others more difficult. Police must choose between upholding high standards and letting their reputations be damaged and losing public support.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.