Letter: Darien first selectman urges state reps to vote no on police bill, move it to regular session

Send letters to the editor to: Editor@DarienTimes.com

Send letters to the editor to: Editor@DarienTimes.com

Hearst Connecticut Media

The following letter was sent Thursday morning to Senators Bob Duff and Carlo Leone and Representatives Terrie Wood and Matt Blumenthal, all of whom represent Darien.

It is reprinted here at the request of the writer, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson.

To the Editor:

I’m writing this morning to ask you to vote ‘NO’ today on the proposed legislation on Police Accountability and instead vote to support the work of the proposed Task Force and moving the discussion to the regular session in 2021.

There are good ideas in this bill. I strongly support all Connecticut police departments receiving standardized training and accreditation and the ability for CT POST to revoke certifications.

The Darien Police Department should be held up as a model department who has already implemented many of the reforms proposed in the legislation. We require the use of both dash cameras and body-worn cameras. Body worn cameras have been in operation in Darien since 2017. The cameras have proven to be a benefit for both the public and our officers. For over 30 years, the Darien Police Department has disallowed the use of choke holds unless there is a risk of serious injury or death to the officer or another individual and uses and displays of force must be reported.

As Darien’s representatives, I hope that in doing your due diligence on this bill, you met with Chief Don Anderson and Captains Shreders and Marron to understand the high standards of the Darien Police Department.

I have four specific objections to the bill in general and certain portions of the bill:

1. It is unfathomable to me that the legislature would vote on such a significant law enforcement reform bill while no one from the public is paying attention, let along participating in this important debate. A “public listening session” was held on a Friday in July which did not allow for the traditional full, transparent and open dialogue. Folks are worried about their health, their jobs and whether their kids will be going back to school. The perception by many is that this legislation is being “slipped” through while the public is not engaged.

2. Section 41 includes the elimination of “qualified immunity” for police officers and exposes officers and municipalities to unquantifiable damages. I know you have heard from law enforcement professionals statewide that this provision would decimate our police forces through retirements, resignations and the inability to recruit, hire and retain qualified officers. Qualified immunity does not protect officers from reckless, negligent or criminal behaviors which, I believe is the goal of these reforms. This section of the bill should be removed in its entirely.

3. Keeping our law enforcement professionals and all our first responders healthy in both body and mind is critical. The provisions of this bill mandating mental health screenings (Section 16) every five years may have unintended consequences that have not been discussed to date. I support the mental health assessment referral “for good cause” section of this bill. The mental health assessment provisions of the bill should be removed and studied further by the Task Force to make sure all unintended consequences are fully understood.

4. The bill as proposed was to go into effect “upon passage”. This morning, a new version of the bill changed the effective date to 7/1/2021. If this legislation is time sensitive enough to be the subject of the Governor’s Special Session, changing the effective date gives the perception that the timing is political and not responsive to a critical and timely need. In light of this 11th hour information, the entire bill should be tabled and brought forward during the regular 2021 session when the public can be better engaged and more important due diligence can be provided.

Jayme Stevenson

First selectman, Darien