I’d like to say, that over the last few years we’ve taken steps toward improving policing in Connecticut, catching criminals and reducing the use of excessive force during arrests, rethinking law enforcement training and demanding transparency – but so far, despite a far-reaching Police Accountability Bill passed in 2020, I’d say there’s little evidence of that.
Perhaps it’s a hopeful sign that some of the public frustration clearly is shared by many members of the state and local police.
Steve Jensen’s reporting for CT Examiner on a variety of alleged problems within the State Police force – including serious questions regarding discipline, training, and the use of firearms – would not be possible without a remarkable number of troopers reaching out to talk to us about their concerns and frustrations.
In New London, Jensen’s reporting on allegations of racial and sexual discrimination within the force, also would not have been possible without police officers sometimes stepping out of their comfort zone and speaking to the press.
In Old Saybrook, numerous officers who had left the department raised a variety of concerns to Emilia Otte, about what they described as a toxic work environment, with some alleging unlawful behavior and misconduct by the chief of police.
In Montville, a collision by a police officer that sent 7 to area hospitals last August remains unexplained, and a full accident report by the State Police has never been released – it’s a story that never would have come to light without a whistleblower behind the scenes.
In every case, I feel like we are letting the public and police down, when officers take the risk of speaking to the press, and nothing really changes… why bother?
Maddeningly, the single most important and least controversial provision in the 2020 Police Accountability bill — the requirement that local police officers wear body cameras – has been entirely hamstrung by the failure of the legislature and the Lamont administration to take over the costs and the responsibility of storing, editing and releasing that footage to the press and public.
Really, what chance does an aggrieved member of the public have – to offer just one example — when the combined efforts of CT Examiner, Hearst, WTNH, NBC and the chair of the Old Saybrook Police Commission have failed so far to dislodge body camera footage of a relatively minor incident involving the Old Saybrook Police Department dating back to Oct. 10, 2020?
In that case, the footage would do much to support or discredit serious allegations regarding Chief Michael Spera, lodged by his own officers.
But in that case, it was nearly a year before the state’s Freedom of Information Commission held a hearing on Oct. 15, 2021, on the matter, the Old Saybrook Police Department offered little in the way of a defense – and 6 months later we are still waiting for that footage.
Imagine, if the shoe was on the other foot, or the allegations were more serious — but wait, you don’t have to — in the recent case of an unreported shooting by State Police, we had footage in about a day.
It’s precisely those sorts of disparities, town by town and incident by incident, that can be solved by timely action by the legislature and the Governor — we’ve raised the issue before — but frustratingly, as the sessions heads to a close, we’re no closer to an answer.