The deaths of Black women Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls have caused lawmakers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to propose legislation that will ensure the families of people found dead won’t be left twisting in the wind because cops are too indifferent, irresponsible, and neglectful to notify family members immediately after a body is found and identified.
For those unfamiliar with the cases of Smith-Fields and Rawls, both women—who lived near each other and were found dead on the same day—died mysteriously after reportedly meeting with strange men. In both cases, their family members complained that, among other offenses, Bridgeport police officers were callous and rude in their communications with the family during their investigations and that they had to rely on others, who were not law enforcement officials, to even find out their loved ones had died.
House Bill 5349 Is On The Table
Now, according to Ct Post, local legislators have proposed House Bill 5349, which would require officers who discover “a deceased person or the remains of a person” to ensure the deceased person’s next of kin are notified within 24 hours of the person’s identification. And if for whatever reason, they are unable to do so, they must “document the reason for the failure or delay of notification and any attempts made to make such notification.”
In other words: Cops won’t be able to discover dead Black people and essentially say, “Eh—we’ll get to the family when we feel like it.”
“It’s deeply upsetting that this legislation is even necessary,” Rep. Antonio Felipe (D-Bridgeport) said in a statement announcing the bill. “This is a wrong being righted.”
The bill was written by Democratic Rep. Steve Stafstrom, who said he began writing it after meeting with Smith-Fields’ family, and he also lamented that the bill was even needed as it is literally a bill to force cops to do their jobs.
“I wish a bill like this wasn’t necessary,” Stafstrom said. “Frankly the Bridgeport Police Department could have and should have done a little better outreach from the get-go and this should be standard procedure by a police department. Clearly, there was a gap and that’s why we thought the legislation was necessary to make the expectation abundantly clear.”
Stafstrom also said that if the bill were to become law, cops who violate it would be looking at stiff penalties.
“There is oversight built into this bill,” he said. “The penalty for not complying is pretty significant.”
The bill states that officers who fail to comply could be reported to the state’s Office of the Inspector General for investigation and possible censure, suspension, “or revocation of the peace officer’s certification.”
Of course, it should be expected that family members of Rawls and Smith-Fields might be skeptical as, at this point, Bridgeport authorities have more than proven their ain’t-sh**-ness.
Darnell Crosland, a lawyer who represents the families, said they “are in favor of the bill and actually fought hard to have the proposal put before the legislature.” But Dorothy Washington, one of Rawls’ sisters, said that while she is in favor of the bill, “It will be a waste of time if oversight continues to be little to none, and employees are not held accountable for what they get paid to do.”