This open letter to the residents of Plainville was posted on the Plainville Police Department Facebook page Monday and attributed to Chief of Police Matthew Catania.
I would like to make several points that illustrate the unintended consequences that both the public and we as police professionals inevitably will be facing in light of the current proposed changes in policing.
Please do not misconstrue my objective here. Some change is needed. No system is perfect. My position is that most of the change presented in House Bill 6004 already exists under a different name or is already being overseen by a different branch of government, such as the Office of the State’s Attorney. Some of the proposed changes are window dressing – and will not actually reform policing in a positive or meaningful way.
Throughout all of this so-called sweeping reform, the one official that seems to be absent from the list of those holding the police accountable, are the chiefs of police. The leaders of the police agency.
The Police Officers Standards and Training Council (POSTC) academy has been already creating mandated model policies on high value topics such as police pursuits, taser deployment and use, domestic violence, missing persons, use of force, etc. This should continue. POSTC has been inspecting our police agencies, with on-site visits from the certification officer, for policy compliance through review of our facility, policies and case files. This should continue and is akin to HB6004’s reference to accreditation.
Police chiefs should already be following a due process approach to employee internal affairs investigation, including, receiving all citizen complaints, full investigation of the allegations, an opportunity for the subject officer(s) to respond, a written notice of discipline, a written report complete with findings shared with the complainant, and revisions made to both policy and practice to ensure that the described violation does not occur again. This process is in place now. Officers are and should be held accountable for their actions. Isn’t this what we are all looking for? I know the process works to ensure proper policing and equal justice under the law for all people because I have successfully presided over the process for almost half of my four-decade professional career.
Here is my point. There are systems in place, or should be in place, that already work. If these systems are not being followed or implemented, who better than the chief of police in each agency to make those changes and be held accountable if they are not being met? The public is largely unaware of these processes. The public believes the government is now showing them new concepts.
In effect, the government is selling a bill of goods. Police chiefs are the persons that can bring real change in the way of police accountability. HB6004 should have focused on making the necessary changes through the personnel that can truly be held accountable for doing so instead of just adding layers of bureaucracy and grandstanding with the removal of qualified immunity – a process by which Connecticut police officers have never been guaranteed immunity from prosecution unlike others in government who are immune from prosecution.
HB6004 will likely become a reality because of the current political climate and not because of its efficacy. Police will inevitably be put in no-win use of force situations thereby opting out of the decision making process. You can expect the unintended consequences of less police chief involvement and accountability, greater assignment of blame for poor police performance on some other entity and less basic police performance for all, including less quality policing for those already marginalized in our society – those that this bill pretends to support and represent.