First provisions of police accountability package become law

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The first of Connecticut’s sweeping police accountability laws went into effect Thursday, including a provision that requires police and corrections officers to intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force.

The legislation was passed in July amid protests and calls for change following the May killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Under the law, any officer who witnesses unreasonable, excessive or illegal force and does not intervene may be charged with the same crime as the officer who used the force. Departments are also prohibited from retaliating in any way against officers who intervene.

The legislative package also created a new inspector general’s office, which will take over the investigation of cases involving the use of force by police to determine if that action was justified. But lawmakers have yet to appoint anyone to lead that office.

Another law stipulates that police officers who lose their state certification can no longer apply for licenses to be security guards in Connecticut.

The package has also changed the rules for traffic stops in Connecticut.

Police may no longer ask drivers to search their cars if they’ve been stopped solely for a motor vehicle violation. Officers still may conduct searches if they have probable cause to believe a more serious crime has been committed or if they receive the unsolicited consent of the driver.

Drivers pulled over for motor vehicle violation also cannot be asked to produce citizenship papers or anything other than their driver’s license, registration and insurance information.

In addition to the use-of-force laws, there is also a new law dealing with the false reporting of crimes, stemming from an encounter in New York’s Central Park in which a white woman falsely reported that a Black man was threatening her life. Under the revised statute, those charged with falsely reporting a crime or misusing the 911 system will face stiffer penalties if that report was determined to be racially motivated.

Other parts of the package, including a controversial provision limiting government immunity protections for police, are set to go into effect in January.

That legislation, which allows lawsuits when a person’s constitutional rights have been violated by “malicious, wanton or willful” conduct of an officer, have been met with strong opposition from police officers and their representatives across the state. Some have warned the bill will further hinder already challenging police recruitment efforts and encourage veteran officers to retire.