Students are showing support for new Connecticut state laws designed to limit excessive use of force by police — but some say the legislation is just a start.
The law will enforce the development of guidelines for the recruitment, retention and promotion of minority police officers, particularly in communities with a relatively high concentration of minority residents, which must be done by Jan. 1. The laws also mandate the implementation of training to promote bias-free policing and prevent the excessive use of physical force. Students involved with civil rights on campus agreed that the legislation is a step in the right direction towards preventing adversarial relationships between the community and the police.
“It’s hard to convince people that the police are working for them instead of against them when they look nothing like them and they’re so highly militarized,” Yale NAACP President Brea Baker ’16 said.
Students interviewed agreed that the legislation was a positive change, but several identified concerns about excessive use of force by police officers that were not addressed by the legislation.
The new legislation mandates officer training for the use of body-worn recording devices, such as cameras, and the retention of the data collection on those devices. Those devices must be purchased by Jan. 1. Former chair of the Yale ACLU undergraduate chapter Andre Manuel ’16 said that though he personally agrees with the use of body cameras, many others have concerns about privacy rights. He added that body cameras alone will not solve the underlying issues of excessive use of force by police. Other students interviewed echoed Manuel’s statement.
“All of those things are band-aids, but necessary and potentially effective ones, to build trust and accountability,” Nate Bresnick ’18 said. “But I do believe that any meaningful attempt to stop police violence needs to address systemic inequalities and a culture of white supremacy in a much more comprehensive way.”
Another piece of the legislation encourages police departments to recruit officers who reflect the demographics of their communities. Such efforts include community outreach and new policies that encourage the promotion of minority officers when the department has vacant positions.
Both DOWN Magazine Editor in Chief Elizabeth Spenst ’18 and Manuel noted that police forces reflecting the racial demographics of their community are not sufficient to create more trust between communities and police departments.
Spenst said that while having police forces that resemble the communities they serve is imperative, sensitivity training is also crucial for police officers to understand their communities.
Manuel said officers should also have roots in the community.
State representatives who advocated for the legislation before it was passed in June stressed the law’s importance.
“The increased number of fatalities at the hands of police officers is creating mistrust in communities across the country, including Connecticut, to the point where some cities have experienced civil unrest,” Norwalk state Rep. Bruce Morris said. “We need to be more proactive than reactive and that’s what this law is.”
Hamden state Rep. Robyn Porter noted that the body-camera aspect of the legislation serves as a deterrent to excessive use of force by police. Porter said that when people know they are being watched, they tend to act differently, so the law serves as protection for both police officers and citizens.
The legislation was signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy on July 6.