POWELL: Weakening police immunity isn't clear and needs review

Published on Sunday, 1 November 2020 19:52
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Sailing against a heavy political wind, Republican candidates for the General Assembly have been heartened by the vigorous endorsements they are getting from police unions, which this year have broken away from the government employee union apparatus in the Democratic Party.

The endorsements encourage Republicans not because police officers are so numerous but because the public fears increasing disorder and crime amid the virus epidemic and political hatefulness and violence, and the police are the public's main defense.

Since some of the recent disorder and crime arises from protests against both the real and imagined use of excessive force by police against racial minorities, some people suspect that the Republican eagerness for police endorsements is anti-minority. After all, the unions are mad at Democratic legislators and Governor Lamont for enacting the recent police reform legislation that was advocated by minority legislators. The new law purports to diminish the "qualified immunity" officers enjoy against personal lawsuits for their conduct on the job.

Police unions do have a lot to answer for. Like all government employee unions, they strive for more than due process of law for their members. They strive to defeat accountability altogether, as with the current state police union contract, which supersedes Connecticut's freedom-of-information law by forbidding disclosure of misconduct complaints that have been dismissed by police management. Of course without disclosure of all complaints, management itself cannot be evaluated and cover-ups can always prevail.

But critics of the police have a lot to answer for as well, like their silly calls to "defund" police precisely when disorder is worsening, as if any mistake or misconduct in police work eliminates the need for all police work.

Connecticut's new police law has several excellent provisions, like its requirement for regular recertification of state troopers and its nullification of the state police contract's secrecy clause. But the law's provision on immunity is questionable because its meaning and likely effect are not clear.

The Democratic legislators from minority groups who advocated the provision called it revolutionary. But white Democratic legislators supporting the provision insisted that it wouldn't change much at all.

It's no wonder police officers are resentful, and everyone should be concerned that once again the General Assembly didn't know what it was doing except rushing to oblige the special-interest politics of the moment - just as the legislature did with the now-infamous law requiring Eversource Energy to buy the expensive electricity of the Millstone nuclear power station, causing a spike in electric rates.

There is misconduct in all occupations. It is most important to expose and stop it in police work. But police officers are far more sinned against than sinning. If it condemns all for the mistakes or misconduct of a few, society will only imperil itself.

While the "qualified immunity" provision is demoralizing officers, it won't take effect until July next year. It should be reconsidered authoritatively as soon as the legislature reconvenes.


Students and teachers in the Connecticut State Universities and Colleges system are complaining about spending cuts to reduce the system's huge deficit. Some say there is too much administration, but eliminating all administration won't close the deficit, which has been caused largely by declining enrollment. With personal contact sharply curtailed during the virus epidemic, college on the internet is not much fun.

Fortunately there is a solution. Connecticut could handle higher education just as it handles lower education - with social promotion. Everyone in high school can graduate just by showing up, without having to learn anything, and while most students never master high school work, everyone gets a diploma and is happy. So why not give bachelor's degrees to every high school graduate who wants one - waiting, of course, for a few years to elapse so the degrees look more real?

Some specialized courses still could be offered for students who really want to learn something in college, but most students probably would settle for the degree alone. The savings would be enormous, and education's main objective would continue to be achieved: mere credentialism.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns, Editorials on Sunday, 1 November 2020 19:52. Updated: Sunday, 1 November 2020 19:54.