The Public Safety and Security Committee on Monday voted 13-10 to advance a bill that would require police to notify family members that their loved ones are dead within 24 hours of identifying a body.
House Bill 5349 was inspired by two separate high-profile cases in Bridgeport in which black women, Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, died and police failed to promptly notify their families.
The bill empowers the Inspector General, the independent state attorney who investigates police use of lethal force, to conduct investigations if police do not make a documented effort to notify families that their relatives have died. The Inspector General could then make recommendations to the Police Officers Standards and Training Council on whether to discipline an officer or supervisor.
The bill passed the Judiciary Committee almost unanimously – two Republicans voted against – when it was put to a vote on March 29. Monday’s vote in the Public Safety Committee was much tighter. All nine Republicans voted against the measure, as did Rep. Jill Barry, D-Glastonbury.
The bill’s tighter margin comes five days after the Inspector General announced criminal charges for a police officer who killed a black teenager in 2020.
Several Republicans have expressed concern about the inspector general’s role outlined in the bill.
State Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, said he was concerned about the bill because of the powers given to the inspector general.
Champagne also said he had a problem with his job and his livelihood at stake if he was unable to notify a family within 24 hours.
Champagne, who served as a police officer for 22 years, said he fears the bill will rush police departments to report a death, and many will end up going by phone. He said you should notify the death of a family member in person so that person can be supported.
“If that person has a medical condition, when you notify them, someone has to be there,” Champagne said. “And what this bill says to everyone is no, you just have to make this notification to be covered by the law.”
State Representative Rick Hayes, R-Putnam, said he agrees with Champagne and thinks the law would hurt more than it helps.
“I can see what someone who’s never done police work sees in this bill, that you think you’re doing good,” Hayes said. “This bill does not do that. This bill will remove in-person obituaries. This will hurt families.
Republicans weren’t the only ones worried about the proposal.
State Representative Michael DiGiovancarlo, D-Waterbury, said the bill would hurt police officers like him.
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“I don’t see it affecting the police at all,” DiGiovancarlo said. “I’ve seen bad policing bills over the last few years that have really crippled law enforcement.”
Despite his concerns, DiGiovancarlo ultimately voted in favor of the bill.
Rep. Antonio Felipe, D-Bridgeport, said it’s very important families know immediately that their member has passed away.
Felipe said he supported the bill despite the concerns of others.
“I don’t think it’s going to have that overall effect on our police department,” Felipe said. “I don’t think there will be a bunch of decertified police for these situations. We made sure there was a good faith effort in there because if you make that effort, we’re not going to penalize you for it.
Rep. Patrick Boyd, D-Pomfret, said notifying his family of a death is one of the most important things law enforcement is tasked with doing, and he hopes the bill will be adopted.
“It also appears to be a work in progress,” Boyd said. “I spoke to some of the defenders about it over the weekend. And you know, they don’t oppose the bill, largely because of what they consider common practice. And they all seem to point to a particular department that didn’t handle this well.