TESTIMONY OF THE DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Proposed S.B. No. 402 AN ACT CREATING A STATE OFFICE TO INVESTIGATE COMPLAINTS AGAINST POLICE OFFICERS.
Proposed H.B. No. 5757 AN ACT EXPEDITING INVESTIGATIONS OF OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS THAT RESULT IN DEATH.
Proposed H.B. No. 5922 AN ACT CONCERNING USE OF FORCE REPORTS.
JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND SECURITY
February 14, 2019
The Division of Criminal Justice submits the following testimony with regard to Proposed S.B. No. 402, An Act Creating a State Office to Investigate Complaints Against Police Officers, Proposed H.B. No. 5757, An Act Expediting Investigations of Officer-Involved Shootings that Result in Death, and Proposed H.B. No. 5922, An Act Concerning Use of Force Reports, to provide the Committee with additional information regarding the existing law and procedures governing the investigation of incidents of the use of deadly force by police officers that result in death. Although the Division can take no detailed position on these bills, as they are only proposed bills with no specific statutory language, we must express reservations with the concepts as suggested to this point.
Of most concern is Proposed H.B. No. 5757, An Act Expediting Investigations of Officer-Involved Shootings that Result in Death. The Division is fully aware of the concerns over the length of time it takes to complete investigations into incidents where the use of force by a police or other peace officer results in death. However, we must express our strongest reservations over any attempt to impose an artificial deadline for the completion of these investigations.
The investigation into the use of deadly force is a criminal investigation that must be conducted in the same fashion as any other criminal investigation. This involves the collection and analysis of evidence, including physical evidence and statements of witnesses and others involved in the incident. As with any complex investigation, the investigators must interview these witnesses and others involved. Oftentimes the investigators will receive conflicting information requiring follow-up interviews and analysis. Physical evidence will be collected from a wide variety of sources running the gamut from forensic evidence collected at the scene of the incident to video evidence that may be recovered after the incident from surveillance cameras or police body cameras or dashboard cameras in police vehicles. All such evidence is subject to the same analysis that occurs in any serious criminal investigation. This would include analysis by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner through the conducting of an autopsy and associated testing and by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Forensic Science Laboratory, which is responsible for a range of tests such as DNA analysis and testing of firearms evidence.
In Connecticut, investigations into the use of force by municipal police officers resulting in death are conducted by the Connecticut State Police and overseen by the Division of Criminal Justice through the Offices of the State’s Attorneys and the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. Since 2015, investigations are assigned to a State’s Attorney for a Judicial District other than the district where the incident occurred in order to eliminate even the perception of a conflict of interest. In the case of a death involving an officer of the Connecticut State Police, the investigation work itself is done by a Major Crime Squad from another district under the oversight of a State’s Attorney for a different judicial district. The investigation into the use of force by a municipal officer also may be assigned to a Major Crime Squad from a different region if there is concern over a potential conflict of interest.
These are complex and thorough investigations on the part of both the Major Crime Squad, which does the investigative work, and the State’s Attorney who subsequently utilizes those investigative findings to reach a determination on whether the use of force was appropriate under applicable law. In most of these cases, the State Police will provide the State’s Attorney with hundreds if not thousands of pages of reports, statements and related information, literally filling volumes. It takes time and a lot of basic hard investigative work for the state police to collect and present this mass of information. In addition, it takes time for the State’s Attorney to thoroughly review this information and undertake the painstaking legal analysis and application of the law. It is not unusual for the State’s Attorney to review the information and ask the State Police to conduct further investigation or address specific questions that arise during the State’s Attorney’s examination of the evidence.
Once the investigation is completed and the State’s Attorney has made a determination of whether the use of force was justified under the law, the State’s Attorney issues a detailed report documenting the findings. The reports are made available to the family or other representatives of the victim or victims of the use of force and to the police officers involved before being released to the news media and posted on the Division of Criminal Justice website. These reports, too, take considerable time to write and review. They are lengthy documents detailing the circumstances of the incident, analysis of evidence and the analysis and application of the law that results in the determination of whether the use of force was justified under the law. In those instances where there has been a finding that the use of force was not justified under the law, no report was issued and an application for an arrest warrant was submitted to the court.
It also must be noted that as these are criminal investigations, they must be conducted within the same framework required for any criminal investigation. All involved in the incident have constitutional rights that must be respected throughout the course of the investigation. This applies equally to the police officer whose use of force is under investigation and a witness who may have been involved in a criminal act at the time force was exercised. It also must be noted that these investigations can be impacted by collective bargaining agreements and applicable labor law, which not only can add to the time it takes to complete an investigation but also may serve to complicate access to certain parties and witnesses and associated information required for a thorough and complete investigation.
It is also a stark reality that these investigations are not the only investigations being undertaken by the Major Crime Squads. The Major Crime Squads are responsible for the investigation of a wide array of serious crimes, including homicides and other incidents that pose an immediate threat to public safety requiring their immediate attention. The simple answer would be to appropriate additional resources to the Major Crime Squads but that certainly has not occurred in recent years. In fact, the State Police have experienced much the same reduction in resources and staffing experienced throughout state government.
This is not say that the Division of Criminal Justice has ignored the concerns expressed by those affected by the use of force and those in the community. We understand their concerns and are working internally to determine if there are steps that can be taken within existing resources to complete these investigations as quickly as possible while maintaining the integrity of the investigate process and the subsequent legal analysis and determination of whether the use of force was justified. We are also cognizant of requests from the community for more access to information concerning these investigations prior to the conclusion and release of a report, and are engaged in an internal discussion of how best to address these concerns. Again, we would stress that our fundamental goal is the pursuit of the facts and justice and any release of information prior to conclusion must not undermine these objectives. Yes, there are instances where allowing someone who was involved in or a witness to an incident to view video of the incident may help to refresh their recollection, but there is also the possibility that someone may adjust their testimony to fit what the video shows. Each case must be considered on its own unique facts and circumstances. As such, a blanket policy is not wise with regard to whether or not to publicly release video or other evidence prior to the conclusion of an investigation.
For these reasons, the Division cannot support legislation that would impose an artificial deadline on the investigations into the use of force resulting in death as implied by Proposed H.B. No. 5757. Even if the General Assembly were to provide substantial increases in resources to both the State Police and the Division for additional staff dedicated to this purpose, an artificial deadline is just that – artificial. We certainly would not want to be placed in the position where we were forced to cut corners and not conduct the most thorough process possible just to get the job done quicker. That is not justice.
The Division also must express reservations concerning Proposed S.B. No. 402, An Act Creating a State Office to Investigate Complaints Against Police Officers. Again, given the fact that this is a proposed bill we can only speak in general concepts and thus will focus on what such a bill should not do. First, we would oppose legislation that would assign any such new office the responsibility for investigating incidents of the use of force by a police officer resulting in death. Such a move would place the responsibility for what is a criminal investigation with an entity other than the Division of Criminal Justice, which under our state Constitution is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all criminal matters. In fact, the Division would respectfully recommend that should the Committee decide to move forward with consideration of the concept of S.B. No. 420, it do so in a manner that would not infringe upon the constitutional authority invested in the Division of Criminal Justice, i.e., that any new agency would have no authority with regard to criminal matters.
The Division also would express reservations with the concept of Proposed H.B. No. 5922, An Act Concerning Use of Force Reports. The bill as now written simply requires the State Police and municipal police departments to report annually on the use of force by their officers. It must be noted that Section 7-282e of the General Statutes already requires both the state and municipal police departments to maintain records of the use of force by individual officers. As such, the data on which an annual report such as that contemplated in H.B. No. 5922 already exists. The Division would respectfully recommend that the Committee proceed with caution with this legislation to protect the integrity of any criminal investigation and with keen attention to the privacy interests of the victims of the use of force, who may not wish to become the focus of a public report. At the same time, we recognize that compilation and analysis of the information that is already required to be reported could be of great value both to the law enforcement community and others in evaluating policies and procedures that may need to be implemented or revised to address concerns about the use of force and reduce the incidence of its use.
The overwhelming majority of police officers and other law enforcement personnel are dedicated public servants who face the reality that they may be putting their lives on the line to protect the public every day they report for duty. They are worthy not only of our thanks but also of our support for their contributions to the protection of the public safety. We certainly must address any incident where they do not conduct themselves within the parameters of the law and do so in a fashion that shows complete respect for the rule of law. At the same time, we must recognize the tremendous tasks that confront law enforcement and commit to better training, including assessments of the use of force to determine how we can better deal with the same or similar situation in the future. As with any other profession, law enforcement must always be looking for a better way to get the job done.
In conclusion, the Division of Criminal Justice expresses its appreciation to the Committee for affording this opportunity to provide input on these issues and we stand ready to provide any additional information or to answer any questions the Committee might have.