When it comes to prosecuting police who hurt people in Connecticut – a problem that especially hurts Black and Latinx people -- prosecutors have very rarely been willing to use their power to seek accountability for police. The new Inspector General has a chance to change that.
Connecticut will soon select its first Inspector General, a position created through the police accountability law passed by the legislature in 2020, Public Act 20-1. As an independent prosecutor in charge of holding police accountable, especially when police use excessive force to hurt or wrongfully kill a person, this position is crucial in creating a more equitable state.
It is critical that the Inspector General is an independent and objective person willing to speak truth to power and hold the powerful accountable at every point, while demonstrating that they are committed to the value that Black and brown lives matter.
This week, the Criminal Justice Commission announced that four people are finalists for the position of Connecticut’s first Inspector General. We will be distributing a questionnaire to these candidates, and are asking them to respond by September 20 – one week before their final Criminal Justice Commission interviews for the job. We’ll share the results of our survey of the four Inspector General finalists here after we’ve received them. Because of the unique nature of the Inspector General position, we believe that the public has a right to know each applicant’s views on ending police violence and harms to policed communities.
Going into the job, the Inspector General must acknowledge the structural racism in our system that means Black and Latinx people are particularly harmed by disparities in policing, prosecution, incarceration, and the criminal justice system overall. They must be willing to take steps to end these disparities and reduce these harms.
When a police officer hurts or kills someone, the public needs to know that the Inspector General will not lean on the corrupted pillars of unjust power that for decades have been used to let police escape accountability for harming others, especially Black men. Justice would be people never being hurt or killed by police in the first place, ending systemic racism, and reallocating policing’s astronomical budgets to instead go to things that create real public safety, like healthcare, housing, jobs, and local education. But accountability is also necessary, and the Inspector General must be prepared to seek it.
For decades, people hurt by police and their loved ones have been advocating for the legislature to do something to begin valuing Black and Latinx lives by holding police accountable. The legislature created the Inspector General role as a first step toward this, because accountability is necessary, and the public, including lawmakers, advocates, and impacted families, do not believe that State’s Attorneys and the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) are willing to hold police accountable when they harm people.
Since 2001, the DCJ has investigated 81cases in which police used deadly force. State’s Attorneys have chosen not to pursue charges against police in all but two of those cases. The first Inspector General must see their role differently. Instead, they must view their priority as ending police violence by using their discretion as a prosecutor to seek redress for victims and families who are hurt by police violence. Simply finding a police officer is unjustified in using physical force or was engaged in other criminal conduct will not be enough. The incoming Inspector General must be committed to moving forward with accountability to the greatest extent of their discretion. Because accountability is not enough, the Inspector General must also be willing to advocate for policies that value Black lives by reducing the legal cover for police who hurt or kill people. For example, an Inspector General committed to ending police violence would support policies to improving Connecticut’s use of force standard to better hold police accountable for violence.
For too long, police have been essentially immune from liability when they kill or hurt people, due to impossible-to-meet legal standards for accountability, structural disincentives for prosecutors to pursue charges, and lack of political will on the part of any agent of the criminal legal system to use their considerable power to impose criminal liability.
In Connecticut, police violence disproportionately targets Black and Brown people. When the system fails to hold police accountable for that violence, it fails all of us.
The Inspector General alone cannot and will not end police violence. But whoever assumes the role has to see their job as working toward that goal by holding police accountable – without excuses or delay.