New Haven state legislators’ late-session push for a police accountability law picked up support from a former top cop.
The former top cop, retired New Haven Assistant Police Chief John Velleca, came out in support of a proposal promoted by State Rep. Robyn Porter and State Sen. Gary Winfield to require prompt state investigations of allegations of misconduct by local cops and to place on unpaid leave officers accused of excessive force.
The bill has been revived late in the current state legislative session following a Bridgeport police officer’s shooting death of a Bridgeport teen.
The bill would require state police to conduct and conclude within 15 days an investigation into local police excessive force allegations; and require departments to place those officers on unpaid leave.
Law enforcement officials like State’s Attorney Kevin Kane have spoken out against the bill for a variety of reasons, including the difficulties of winding up an investigation in 15 days if autopsy or toxicology test results aren’t yet available. The unpaid leave provision has generated criticism, since other public employees get paid leave pending the results of investigations into alleged misconduct.
Velleca said he recognizes those criticisms, but believes the bill can be “tweaked” — by modifying the 15-day deadline, for instance — while accomplishing an important purpose: “putting the community ease.”
“If we are to gain credibility as police officers, we have to support bills like this,” Velleca said. He argued that the bill’s support reflects “frustration in a system that doesn’t give good information.”
In an era of citizen video, the public is seeing disturbing scenes of police violence, he observed, and needs more prompt explanations than some police officials are accustomed to providing. That pressure will only increase when, for instance, New Haven starts outfitting all its officers with body cams. Police officials need to promptly offer good information to the public about controversial incidents, including explanations about why police often have good reason to use force in public situations.
While 15 days might be too quick a deadline, it still makes sense to require a prompt deadline for drawing initial conclusions about whether an officer acted properly, argued Velleca, who also served as acting chief in New Haven. (He currently serves as sergeant at arms for the Connecticut State Senate.) The kind of conclusion sought in this bill isn’t the same as the full findings required in a criminal investigation, he said; police chiefs already get updates pretty soon after such an event with enough information to make an informed judgment about whether an officer committed administration violations in these cases.
“She’s not asking us to do anything we don’t already do anyway,” Velleca argued about Porter’s bill.
At a press conference about the bill Tuesday, Porter and Winfield were joined by representatives of ACLU and the state Commission on Equity and Opportunity.
“I don’t want officers to feel like this is an attack on them, because it’s not,” Porter said at the press conference, according to this CT Mirror report. “I understand, and I believe, that a lot of this stuff stems from improper training, insufficient training, inadequate training.
“And that means that we have to take a look at the administration that has command over these officers – the chiefs, the assistant chiefs, the deputy chiefs, these people should be held to a level of accountability as well.”
Click on or download the above audio file to lsiten to the full episode of WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven,” in which Velleca and WNHH station manager Harry Droz also discussed challenges facing New Haven’s new police chief and the fallout of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s immigration and mandatory minimum sentencing.