Velleca: Cops Should Embrace Accountability Bill

Markeshia Ricks Photo 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.

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 18, 2017  4:11pm

How about a statewide Civilian Review Board as well?
The police have to be held accountable for any use of force that results in injury or death.
It is far to easy for a cop to claim he feared for his life and get a pass.
A kid in a car has to be panicked to see 2 cops approaching with a gun in their hands.
Either the people are in control or the police are.
We need some sanity here.

posted by: narcan on May 19, 2017  1:53am

Rep. Porter has already completed her thorough investigation of the Bridgeport PD use of force incident and found it to be excessive? Let’s wait to hear what the State Police has to say since they are the ones actually responsible for investigating the shooting.

Let’s stop using the words “excessive force” when we mean to say “force that I didn’t like or don’t understand”.

A bill that would presume guilt and take punitive action against any police officer who uses force before an investigation is a non-starter and it is a ridiculous waste of time and resources to even be talking such a thing. I am frankly dumbfounded anyone, particularly people whose job it is to craft laws, could think such a concept was remotely lawful or appropriate.

posted by: WereUthere? on May 19, 2017  8:53am

This is so stupid. This bill has already been shot down because it makes no sense. How can a justified shooting incident revive this bill? Yes it’s awful that a young kid was killed. But he shouldn’t have been in possession of a stolen car, and he shouldn’t have rammed that can into police officers. Whether or not he was scared at cops pointing their guns at him is irrelevant. Cops are trained to assess a dangerous situation. Why are people trying to justify the kids actions. Yes , fear is a human reaction. However, his actions were criminal. Again, yes it’s unfortunate he was a young kid. But this bill would mean ANY use of force investigation would put an Officer on unpaid leave. That’s just ridiculous. And if the state believes an adjustment in training is needed for all officers in the state involving use of force then so be it. But don’t open the door to an officer being put on unpaid leave BEFORE an investigation is done. Makes no sense. Velleca should be smart enough to know this is wrong.

posted by: JohnDVelleca on May 19, 2017  9:45am

@wereuthere?

I don’t think the article is articulate enough, or maybe I wasn’t articulate enough, regarding when an officer would be put on unpaid leave.  The intent of the bill, the way it was explained to me, was unpaid leave would occur if the investigation inculpated officer misconduct to the standard of a “preponderance of the evidence.”  I think the bill is merely asking for swift action if a violation of policy is substantiated early on in the investigation.  As I’ve said before, there shouldn’t be any action taken against an officer (or anyone for that matter) without substantial reason (i.e. the results of some type of inquiry or investigation).  The bill needs to be clarified because I honestly don’t think Rep. Porter’s intentions translated precisely to paper.  It’s surely a work in progress, but I think we should be open to trying to make things like this work.  Lastly, I am in no way, shape or form passing judgement on the recent police shooting in Bridgeport as I’m in lieu of the details of what actually happened.