A union of Connecticut state troopers led a demonstration outside the Capitol in Hartford Thursday in support of qualified immunity, a measure that protects police officers from civil liability.
They were protesting as lawmakers began considering extensive police reform measures at a special legislative session inside the Capitol building.
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Union Executive Director Andrew Matthews, who led the protest, told Connecticut Public Radio that the latest bill on police accountability is an overreach. He’s concerned that if passed, it will impact the effectiveness of officers, particularly if they need to fire their weapon.
Hundreds of protesters circled the building, stopping at each wing to shout “Back the blue” to the legislators inside.
“Every single cop in this state should not have to worry about being arrested and prosecuted or being financially bankrupt because they’re doing a job for the employer,” Matthews said.
The personal liability concern baffles some state lawmakers, including Steven Stafstrom, who wrote the bill.
“I think there’s certainly this fear by police officers that their house is somehow going to get taken away as a result of these lawsuits, which simply isn’t true,” he said. “There’s already existing Connecticut law that except in the most egregious of cases, it’s actually the town that has to defend and pay any monetary damages that are entered against a police officer.”
He noted that one of the intended effects of the legislation will be to incentivize cities and towns to avoid liability by ridding their police departments of bad officers.
In Connecticut, police officers are shielded from personal lawsuits unless they exhibit “willful and wanton” conduct. That particular statute isn’t currently up for debate.
In addition to qualified immunity, other police accountability issues being taken up in the session address the certification of officers, along with their mental health.