Connecticut state lawmakers advanced a bill last week that would require police officials to notify relatives of victims within 24 hours of their positive identification. The legislation comes three months after two Black women, Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Rawls, died and their families weren't notified by authorities for days.
Under House Bill 5349, police who respond to a call about "a deceased person or the remains of a person" to notify relatives within 24 hours and if they do not –– they must document the reason they failed to follow-up.
"This is such a basic concept that we think should take place in the state of Connecticut to ensure human dignity, we want to ensure that the family is treated with a delicacy in a delicate situation that it deserves," State senator and the bill's co-sponsor Dennis Bradley said during a public meeting last month, The National Reporter & Producer reported.
"This piece of legislation, although at its first glance sounds pretty fundamental, will be monumental to ensure that we make a bridge between police departments and families," Bradley added.
Smith-Fields was a 23-year-old college student who was reported dead on December 12 in her Bridgeport apartment by a man she'd met on a dating app earlier that day. Smith-Fields' mother, Shantell Fields, said she didn't know about her daughter's death until the next day after she discovered a note taped to the apartment door that said to call the landlord.
On December 11, 53-year-old Rawls went to an acquaintance's house near her home but never returned. Rawls' sister, Dorothy Rawls Washington told NBC News she hadn't heard from Brenda in two days when she began calling around to authorities.
Police told her there was nothing to be done. Washington and a group of other relatives went to the acquaintance's home themselves only to be told that she'd died in her sleep days prior. The family then had to call around to funeral homes to figure out where Rawls' remains were. It was only after one funeral home suggested contacting the state medical examiner's office that they located their loved one's body.
"This bill is about human decency, and the fact that human decency does not stop when someone dies," Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said in support of the bill. "It extends to the living and to the family and loved ones of the deceased and should be carried out in a respectful and dignified way."
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