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Since its establishment on Oct. 1, 2019, the Connecticut Task Force on Police Transparency and Accountability has been suggesting reforms to the Connecticut police force, which dates back to 1903. 

The task force, which aims to examine police officer interactions and come up with strategies to address issues, has been meeting since July 2020. On Jan. 11, the task force unanimously voted to approve a report summarizing the various reforms that it would like to see implemented statewide.

“It’s really kind of exposing a whole trend that policing has become, which is more escalating conflict with the public than peace officers,” Connecticut state Rep. Anne Hughes said in an interview. “As we’re under extreme distress, everybody, because of the pandemic there’s a lot of, I don’t like to call it political distress, but you know, certainly existential distress for our democracy.”

The report details potential improvements to Connecticut’s policing system, such as having more social workers and mental health experts respond to certain calls and examining interactions between officers and people with disabilities in order to find ways to better conduct them. 

“In terms of mental health response in lieu of police, many would argue it makes sense given the fact that the police can have a triggering effect in certain situations, and we have seen various programs being implemented throughout the country with success,” Yale Police Assistant Chief Steven Woznyk said.

The Task Force also includes proposals to end broken windows policing, or stops for low-level administrative and equipment offenses, implement the psychological evaluation of officers into the recertification process, prohibit chokeholds and neck restraints, collect data on people the police are stopping, mandate body-worn cameras, ensure that police training includes the history of past policing and its injustices, require 500 hours of community service before becoming an officer and require a duty to intervene when officers witness misconduct.

Hughes said the Task Force on Police Transparency and Accountability’s report is not an indictment of the police officers individually – they have been taught to criminalize substance abuse and are not trained to have a trauma-informed response. Hughes noted that often, the mere presence of the police escalates the fight-or-flight response. 

“Yes, we are seeing spikes in crime, we are seeing spikes in deadly encounters,” Hughes said. “If you’re a social worker, like I am, behaviors that are very very normal human responses to extreme compounded stress. You can criminalize it, but that doesn’t address the underlying distressors.”

Woznyk also acknowledged the triggering effect that police can have in certain situations, adding that many situations warrant a mental health response in lieu of police. Woznyk also mentioned various programs across the country that have been implemented with success. 

The Yale Police Department, according to Woznyk, was one of the first departments in the region to implement a body-worn-camera program, and all YPD officers are trained in crisis intervention. Woznyk said that the YPD already complies with many of the proposals developed by the task force.

Hughes said that she suspects any suggestions in the upcoming legislative session beginning Feb. 9 will be met with backlash.

“We need community support to fight against this,” she said.

While the Connecticut General Assembly is heavily Democratic, Hughes said that the Task Force’s proposals have “become a big political football.” She added that Republican legislators are running with the rise in care theft, blaming it on the police accountability bill that the legislature passed in 2020. Still, Republicans make up a minority of the state legislature, she said.

State Senator Gary Winfield explained that as the Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee, he expects leadership will “consider taking up at least some of [the proposals] in the form of a bill.” 

“An accountable, just and fair justice system cannot be created with one law in one year,” Winfield said. “This is an inclusive process that will take place over the course of several years.”

The Connecticut Legislature will convene on Wednesday, Feb. 9 for the 2022 legislative session.

PIA BALDWIN EDWARDS
Pia Baldwin Edwards reports on Connecticut State Policy and how it impacts New Haven. Pia is originally from Evanston, Illinois, but as of a few years ago, now calls New Orleans home. She is a first year in Saybrook College majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics.