Every vote matters. That is the lesson from the recent Connecticut State House passage of the Police reform bill that limits the Qualified Immunity of Norwalk and New Canaan police officers.
Limiting Qualified Immunity for police officers makes them vulnerable to frivolous litigation, discourages recruiting and makes retaining top talent more difficult. Our towns could be subject to increased litigation costs. Norwalk and New Canaan residents face the risk of increased crime rates and higher property taxes. This is not about protecting bad cops. However good cops may now become collateral damage.
Connecticut House Republicans sponsored an amendment to keep Qualified Immunity intact. It garnered significant Democratic support but failed on a tie vote. My opponent, Lucy Dathan, voted against the amendment. I would have voted Yes. The switch of that one vote would have been enough to pass it. As mentioned, every vote matters.
The sad part of this vote is how unrelated it is to the quality of the Norwalk and New Canaan police forces. Neither Norwalk nor New Canaan are Minneapolis – yet have been treated like they are.
Both Norwalk and New Canaan have earned national accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). CALEA is an umbrella for several national agencies including the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. New Canaan has earned this since 1992 while Norwalk has done so since 1995. Norwalk Police Chief Kulhawik is listed on CALEA’s Board of Commissioners.
Both towns’ police forces have made longstanding commitments to positive outreach, volunteering, and constructive community engagement. In Norwalk, a lot of credit goes to former Police Chief, and now Mayor, Harry Rilling.
I hope that either the State Senate or Governor Lamont will restore the original Qualified Immunity, especially since so many of the other police reforms enjoy wide bipartisan support. These include banning the use of chokeholds except when the officer life is in danger, body cameras, dashboard cameras, proper officer identification, mental health assessments, drug testing, the new Inspector General, expanded Freedom of Information access to discipline records, accreditation standards and expanded use of social workers.
Let’s pass a law that everyone can get behind.
Fred Wilms, former Republican State Representative for District 142, is running to reclaim his previous seat. The 142nd district encompasses portions of both Norwalk and New Canaan.