NPD officers condemn ‘accountability’ law; Duff stands by it

Cruisers parked outside Norwalk Police headquarters Thursday.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Police officers’ objections to Connecticut’s new accountability law go beyond the well-publicized allegations that the “qualified immunity” clause could get them sued personally.

Restrictions on the use of force, social worker involvement in crime scenes, and mandatory psychiatric exams also have the men in blue seeing red, members of the Norwalk Police Union Local 1727 Executive Board told NancyOnNorwalk this week.

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), in return detailed the reasons why he still supports the bill, passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor in July. Mayor Harry Rilling said parts of the new law are “problematic and perhaps overreaching.”

Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story, entire interview with police union leaders

Tensions over the bill have led to a contentious controversy, with Norwalk residents divided on their opinions of recent Norwalk Police behavior with regard to Duff.

“{T}he ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ has been seen in living color in Norwalk these last couple of months, most especially on July 24 with my experience at the Norwalk Police Department,” Duff wrote Wednesday.

Let’s examine both points of view.



‘A complete change in the way we do business – running away’

The changes to the use of force standards are “highly objectionable,” said Lt. David O’Connor, police union President.

Instead of being judged by a panel of police officers, now there will be a panel of citizens who don’t know what it’s like to knock on a door in the middle of the night or to pull over a car with tinted windows, he continued. “They might not understand why we have concerns even though the car or the house might look perfectly okay. They don’t have the background knowledge that we have going into it.”

In addition, police officers must exhaust all other options before using force, O’Connor said. In the old standard, officers could use force “one step above” the force they were being threatened with. Now, using all other options, “includes, the way I understand it, basically running away.”

“Basically, we can’t do anything anymore. … They’re asking us to move away and not make the arrest,” he said. “And that’s a complete change in the way we do business.”

Duff’s reply?

“According to these statements, only a police officer can judge another police officer. No other profession is afforded this level of protection in our country. We empower police officers with tremendous authority and the public has a right and an obligation to ensure that that authority and power is being reasonably used,” Duff wrote.



No search request during traffic stops

When people realize police can’t ask to search vehicles during traffic stops, “they may start transporting more drugs, more weapons,” and other things that will impact the neighborhood, Officer Anastasios Kovlakas said.

This refers to Section 21, which applies to vehicles stopped solely for a motor vehicle violation. It goes into effect Oct. 1

“You’re not allowed to ask for consent to search the car, if you suspect something is amiss, you can only identify the driver and then take enforcement action and then move along,” O’Connor said.

If officers recognize someone in the car as a troublemaker, “maybe a constant drug dealer,” they can’t pat down the occupants or search the car without having the driver volunteer that it’s OK, Officer Michael Sellas said.

“All this is doing is making the city, any city, is making it less safe. It doesn’t do anything to help out the community,” O’Connor said.

Duff said, “The bill protects you from unwanted searches of your car unless the police have reasonable belief you committed a crime. Interactions with police can be scary, tense, and confusing. If an officer asks to conduct a search, people and especially people of color, often feel obligated to give consent despite their right to say no because they are afraid of escalating a situation with law enforcement or being charged for disobeying an officer. In order to build trust between police and the public, this bill ensures an officer cannot search your car without probable cause of a crime or your unsolicited consent.”


‘Firefighters fight fires’

Within six months of the bill passing, the Department of Emergency Services and

Public Protection and each municipal police department must complete an evaluation of the feasibility and potential impact of the use of social workers in police work, be it remotely responding to calls for assistance, responding in person to such calls or accompanying a  police  officer  on  calls  when a social worker could be helpful, the law states.

Det. Daniel Fitzmaurice objects.

“We’ve gone into calls with people with mental illness where they’re violent, throwing things through windows, hurting people. And the fact that we should bring a social worker with us into that environment probably isn’t the best call,” Fitzmaurice said.

Typically, psychiatric organizations or hospitals call the police when there’s a situation, not vice versa, Executive Board members said.

“Sometimes ‘they’ have to see a position of authority there to calm them down enough to either get them an ambulance, get them in a police car and get them in a place where they can be safe and others can be safe,” Fitzmaurice said.

“They might be suffering a psychotic break,” Sellas said. “We can’t talk them down and it resorts to some level of use of force just to prevent them from hurting themselves further, or at all or even somebody else. To have a social worker, there at the front line of that when something like that’s going on is going to be a direct danger to that social worker.”

Officer Carl Williams referred to critical incident training, or CIT.

It “doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, but at least we have someplace you can start… I think most officers that I know of… every call that I’ve ever been on, has always been that moment where we try to get the person’s cooperation first,” he said.

“Police officers are not mental health experts,” Duff said. “This part of the bill is a study – – we are not replacing police officers but looking to supplement them with trained experts who can help defuse a situation. Too often we see people die at the hands of police officers because a family member worried about a loved one called the police, and the police were unable to handle the situation. This is unacceptable. When you have a fire, you want firefighters to put out the fire, when a person is having a mental breakdown you need a mental health expert.”

Psychiatric review?

“I find it objectionable that every five years I have to go sit in front of a psychiatrist and air my dirtiest laundry and darkest secrets to someone that I don’t know in order to maintain my certification,” O’Connor said.

“I find the drug testing to be objectionable,” he continued. “I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs, but there’s no carve out for prescribed medication. There’s no carve out if you leave the state and smoke marijuana in Vermont…if you come up positive for drugs including anabolic steroids, you’re dismissed from work. That’s it.”

In Connecticut, officers keep an eye on each other and a supervisor is alerted if someone seems off, Executive Board members said.

“We have to renew our certification every three years,” Sellas said. “We have certain criteria we need to meet, and in training is a way to prevent something like Minnesota from happening.”

Duff said, “We have been told numerous times that, ‘the job can change you.’ This is a provision to make sure that if an officer becomes more prone to violence or anger management problems arise that help is there for the officer. We trust officers with an immense amount of power including the use of deadly force in the name of the public. The stress on the job can change you and this bill has language to help those officers who need it. As for policing themselves – the ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ has been seen in living color in Norwalk these last couple of months, most especially on July 24 with my experience at the Norwalk Police Department[NC1] .’”

Another certification concern

The section regarding police certification has reasonable examples but it doesn’t define exactly what “engage in conduct that undermines public confidence in law enforcement” means, Sellas said, asking, could it mean social media posts? Or supporting a particular political candidate?

Duff didn’t address this objection.

Qualified Immunity

It’s been understood that municipalities would cover police officers for losses due to a lawsuit, O’Connor said. “Now, if it’s deemed that you acted in a willful wanton manner, if the city loses the lawsuit, they will pass the cost on to you.”

It’s the definition of “willful wanton manner” that’s the problem.

It’s always intentional when force is used, and “we’re trying to get you to stop whatever you’re doing by inflicting a degree of pain. So we’re ‘willful and wanton,’” O’Connor said.

“They can sue us or we can get held personally liable. Now, whether or not that’s going to come up very soon, I don’t know. But the only way to resolve that is to have standing and the only way to get standing is to be a victim of this bad part of the law. That’s the only way you can get into court is to challenge the law. That’s a pretty uphill road to climb,” he continued.

“Suffice to say that this law, the way it’s written now, does exactly the opposite of what it was intended to do,” O’Connor said. “It was rushed through. There was no input from the stakeholders, there was no input from police. There was minimal input from Chiefs of Police and things like that. And the way it is now, it does loads and loads and loads, to hurt the way policing gets done, and build an enormous barrier between us in the community.”

“I think they should scrap it and start over again,” he said.

Duff replied:

“An officer will continue to have qualified immunity unless they commit an act that is either illegal or violates the state Constitution, for which they did not have an objectively good faith belief their act did not violate the law. In my opinion that is a high bar and I don’t see how anyone would want to defend an officer from being responsible for violating the law in such an extreme and egregious way. We don’t want taxpayers to pay for intentional wrongdoing and this bill ensures that.

“The change to qualified immunity brings Connecticut in line with the federal standards. You only have to look to the George Floyd incident that we all know well for an example. Members of the public looking on were crying out. The officer’s knee was on Mr. Floyd’s neck – he was crying for his mother, he was helpless. This is the type of act that this section is looking to address.

 “When this bill was negotiated between the leaders of the four Caucuses and the Judiciary Committee it was unanimous, with the exception of one section. It was a bill that the public was demanding and was in response to horrific events around the country and even here in the State of Connecticut.  You can’t say that it doesn’t happen here – because it does. Police in Connecticut have stopped black and brown residents for shoveling their driveway.”


Revisit the law?

NancyOnNorwalk received a letter written by Senate Republican President Len Fasano (R-North Haven) and sent to Gov. Ned Lamont, State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin).


“Connecticut police officers feel that recent Democrat-approved legislation puts them at risk and makes all our communities less safe,” Fasano wrote, requesting that the legislature fix “all problematic policies in the police accountability bill as part of the legislative agenda for the September special session.”

In reply, Duff referred NancyOnNorwalk to his previous statement, above: “When this bill was negotiated between the leaders of the four Caucuses and the Judiciary Committee it was unanimous, with the exception of one section,” etc.

Rilling outlines ‘proper way’

“I have always had a concern. There are certain parts of the bill that I think are problematic and perhaps overreaching,” Rilling said Thursday.

He had mentioned to Lamont and Duff that the “proper way” to draft such a law would be to form a task force with “subject matter experts” – law enforcement personnel, NAACP and ACLU members, along with “mainstream” citizens – and give the task force 90 days to compile a report with “solid information” behind its recommendations, said Rilling, former Norwalk Police Chief.

“I understand where the police officers are coming from and I understand that there’s also a nationwide cry for greater accountability and protection and I don’t think either position is wrong. I think we should always take a look at process and find out if we can do it better,” Rilling said. “I feel very strongly about the men and women of the Norwalk Police Department. I think they’re dedicated people. Unfortunately there are other areas where perhaps the training, policies and procedures aren’t as effective as what we have. And unfortunately there are people across the country who have caused some horrific deaths of African Americans, who were for the most part unarmed, and perhaps the situation could have been handled much more effectively and in a better way.”


M Murray September 18, 2020 at 6:57 am

Duff states “According to these statements, only a police officer can judge another police officer. No other profession is afforded this level of protection in our country.” I assume he is speaking of civilian review boards. Yet his legislation fails to set any qualifications or training for this he wants to “judge” these officers. Will they be attorneys admitted to the bar who understand the intricacies of Constitutional law, Supreme Court decisions on use of force, admissibility of evidence? Will they have experienced (and passed) trainings such as shoot/don’t shoot simulators so they will know what actions appear to be threatening, dangerous, etc. will they be trained to know that a person armed with a knife 25 feet away can reach and stab an officer faster than an officer can draw and fire his weapon. (Numerous training videos will confirm this). Will they have seen the images of real guns seized from criminals with the ends painted orange to look like toy guns? Airsoft guns made to look exactly like real guns? Will they just assume officers are supposed to know the difference and just assume that since the gun ended up not being real, it was excessive force? Under current circumstances, if a police department is sued, the officer is judged by………. A JUDGE, who can determine if the action was willful and want and hold the officer responsible.

“The bill protects you from unwanted searches of your car unless the police have reasonable belief you committed a crime”. People are already protected from this. It’s a Constitutional protection under the Bill of Rights. You have an Amendment against Unreasonable search and seizure and against self-incrimination. Simply say “No”.
“ This is a provision to make sure that if an officer becomes more prone to violence or anger management problems arise that help is there for the officer.” Is there such a provision for legislators who make laws? What if they are caught making things up an lying or seeing things that don’t really happen? Is a psychiatric examination necessary? If your assessment finds that they are suffering and as you say, “we have all heard the job changes them”, will they be entitled to retire with full disability compensation? Workman’s Comp? You said it, but didn’t put that in the legislation? Wonder why? What’s next? Mandatory 5 year psych evaluation for regular citizens to exercise their Constitutionally protected right to bear arms? Don’t say that isn’t already in the back of your mind. Another slippery slope.

“engage in conduct that undermines public confidence in law enforcement”. Could you write legislation any more vague than this? Giving politicians as much room as possible to be swayed by public opinion and feelings instead of facts and law?

Qualified immunity has been covered numerous times. Officers are currently not immune if they act in a willful and wanton way that violated the Constitution. You already knew that. But you had to rush legislation to appease mob mentality before the elections. Democrats always seem to try and seize tragedy to try to pass crappy legislation while public emotions are high and before calming common sense prevails. Never lose an opportunity to jump on emotional momentum.

Tysen Canevari September 18, 2020 at 7:06 am

Very informative video to help educate all of us on the concerns the police have. Really opened my eyes to the challenges they will now face in a real world situation. Perhaps, the bill should be revisited and thought out more thoroughly. The one thing people forget is to follow the law and you wont be put in a situation with police.

RIDICULOUS!!! September 18, 2020 at 7:08 am

All this started because of cops looking out for cops. None of this would have happened if the good cops spoke up. Wrong is wrong!!!! They are no better than the criminals who don’t believe in “snitch “. We are all held accountable at our jobs, why shouldn’t cops be held accountable?

Bryan Meek September 18, 2020 at 12:46 pm

Police officers across the state have been getting cancellation letters from their homeowner’s insurance policies because of this rushed law.

But all of this is just one big distraction from the real problem. Leaders like Bob Duff are the problem.

When Bob Duff went to Hartford 18 years ago, 10% of Norwalk’s local budget was funded by state grants. Today its down to 5% and shrinking quickly because Bob capitulates to the big city Democrats so he can keep his shiny title.

Because of Bob, we have this law and dozens of others that have done great damage to the state and our city.

Jim McGuire September 18, 2020 at 8:56 pm

Mr. Meek, If it is true that cancellations for insurance are being sent out before the bill even passes, that is truly disturbing. I have searched online and can’t find anything on this topic. Do you have links to media coverage or anything we can look at ?

john j. flynn September 18, 2020 at 9:57 pm

The bill does the exact opposite of what it was intended to do. They say they are forced to retreat. There is a list of financial crimes that Harry Riling talks about in emails with the Detective bureau that “will never be investigated”? Why did they tell me they would have “an absolute field” on a massive check fraud case and lie to protect Bank America, who had more than 10 Attorneys robbing people? My understanding is that Judge Adams appointed the 200 related Stamford cases was a partner at the law firm in question? 500 exhibits were destroyed by the City’s attorney, Brian McCann. Duff, a real estate salesman, is the last person to revise a policy as important as this one. He works on commission. FST cv 14 -5014296-s, Malloy was a defendant that appointed Judge Irene Jacobs. Harry Riling was a defendant. Countless felonies and the Bank’s Attorneys cashed stolen checks protected by Detective Maloney? Tell me misconduct was witnessed and never reported by anyone. I ask where is the 47 million? Deputy Chief Zecca knows. 9 Detectives know and the Chief Kulhawik knows. Internal Affairs Hume knows. 1,239 cashed stolen checks? Accountability law? None of these changes could possibly make the slightest difference and we must hold Duff Accountable as Senate Majority un-leader. A Tsunami is coming and this bill will prolong and strengthen it. The prosecutors office is a far greater concern (FST CV 20 5023122-2. The bill gives more power to those with absolute immunity. Judge Povodator, Heller, Genaurio, and Jacobs refuse to recuse themselves from many cases of conflict of interest. Not a single subpoena was issued in 350 related cases that were not refused by Stamford Police Chief Larrabee. Where was the Bank, the Prosecutor, the Court and the informant? Not a single deposition was allowed. No interrogatories, no requests for production , no witnesses, the informant said he was “working for the Police union President”? When Povodator was counsel to Stamford, under Malloy, Larrabee was Chief and when Malloy became governor, he made Povodator a Judge. Duff thinks qualified immunity is the problem? Not Quite.

Bryan Meek September 19, 2020 at 10:54 am

@Jim. Vermont Mutual had sent letters to police throughout Connecticut, but have since backtracked realizing what a PR fiasco it is. Check out Heather Somers, State Senator from Groton. She talks about it and I know someone who is friends with a state trooper who got one of the letters from VM.

CIRMA who provides stop loss coverage for Norwalk and other municipalities will absolutely be raising premiums. But the worst part is the measures in the bill that will make us all less safe as laid out by many law enforcement professionals.

Regardless of your position on accountability measures, which we can agree or disagree on, the fact is this bill was shoved in unilaterally and without much thought and during a public health crisis over which the legislature took no action other than to abdicate its responsibilities to the executive. This is not how democracy is supposed to work.

Gordon Tully September 19, 2020 at 7:54 pm

Nancy’s balanced reporting of this issue is an inspiring model that all media should follow, but alas are unlikely to. Brava Nancy!

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