Law enforcement officials and experts across Connecticut are creating hiring, promotion and equipment guidelines in time for the new year.
The Connecticut Legislature approved the Act Concerning the Excessive Use of Force on July 6, putting most parts of the law into effect Oct. 1. The law stipulates that all police departments in the state take measures to prevent excessive use of force by police officers by Jan. 1, 2016. The law also requires that all state police departments develop guidelines for the recruitment, retention and promotion of minority police officers. Additionally, it mandates that the Police Officer Standards and Training Council and the commissioner of emergency services and public protection develop guidelines for the use of body-worn equipment, retention and storage of body-camera data, as well as evaluate and approve the minimal technical standards for such equipment. Starting Jan. 1, the Office of Policy and Management will also launch a grant program to reimburse municipalities for the cost of body-worn equipment.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said national discussions about the relationship between the police and the community influenced both the passage of the statute and the crafting of the guidelines, which will be approved by POST.
“What hastened [the passage of the law] … was the climate that occurred since Ferguson and the relationships between police and minority communities,” Kane said.
Both civilians and police officers themselves want officers to wear body cameras, Kane added.
Several law enforcement officials interviewed said they are not concerned about meeting the new hiring and promotion standards, adding that some practices now required by law are already informally in place.
“It’s not an issue of compliance for us,” New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said. “We kind of wrote the book on this law. This has been our practice long before any law was made.”
For law enforcement agencies that serve communities with a high concentration of minorities, such as New Haven, the law required agencies in October to begin making efforts to recruit, retain and promote minority police officers in such a way that reflects the demographic make-up of their communities. NHPD has 495 sworn officers. Of that total, approximately 48 percent are white men, 7 percent are white women, 19 percent are black men, 4 percent are black women, 18 percent are Hispanic men and 3 percent are Hispanic women, according to NHPD data from Nov. 30, 2015. The United States Census Bureau found in 2010, the last year with data available, that New Haven’s population was 42.6 percent white, 35.4 percent black or African-American and 27.4 percent Hispanic or Latino.
Milford Chief of Police Keith Mello said his department hires through a system based on physical agility as well as written and oral exams. He said they are going to continue this alongside their efforts to recruit minority officers. But he said the demographics of a police force should mirror the city’s population of both residents and visitors, not just its residential population. Because Milford’s retail industry attracts a large number of people who live outside the city, the population that his officers police is larger and has a higher concentration of minorities than just the residential population, he said.
“We have an obligation to everyone,” Mello said.
Mello also serves as a member of POST, which developed guidelines for body cameras at the end of last month that municipal law enforcement agencies must adhere to. Mello said Connecticut State Police has similar guidelines.
According to POST guidelines, police can turn the cameras on and off. Officers are expected to activate the camera and leave it on during vehicular pursuits, motorist assists, taking statements or conducting interviews during investigations and transporting and processing prisoners. The guidelines also expect officers to turn on their cameras when they consider it prudent based on their training and experience.
Officers must deactivate the camera in some situations, including encounters with undercover officers or informants, or during breaks and personal activities.
POST is also working towards approving minimal technical specifications for these cameras, which also includes specifications about storage and security of the data they gather.
Kane said the cameras are a good tool for collecting and preserving evidence, but that they come with unanticipated expenses such as storage, retention and redaction for copies and transcripts.
“The cost of the cameras is minuscule compared to the cost of data storage every year,” Hartman said.
Not all individual departments know what the incurred costs will be for data storage because not every department has decided what kind of system to use, Mello said. He added that the Milford Police Department has 120 sworn officers, and the cost of data storage for the department is around $132,000 a year.
Although the cameras provide a valuable opportunity to preserve evidence, they can only record events from the perspective of the camera without context, which limits their usefulness, Kane added.
“The idea of body cameras is good overall. It’s a tool to help determine facts, to help determine what happened, so it’s good no matter what,” Kane said.
The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection is holding a two-day training course on use of force investigations in February.