New London – Calls for more oversight of police practices nationwide have again given way to talks in New London for the formation of a civil audit committee, but one with teeth.
These calls did not go unnoticed by volunteer members of the Police Community Relations Committee, who admit that despite the committee’s role in reviewing internal investigations into civil complaints, it does not actually have the authority to challenge the results of the chief of the police. police.
The committee reviews investigations only after they have been completed and votes “adequate” or “inadequate” on how they were conducted.
“We need to have a civil review committee with summons,” said NAACP New London President Jean Jordan during a recent interview with The Day.
Jordan said the conversation over a committee with more supervisory powers has continued for years, even before the most recent requests for increased police responsibility following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. A committee with summons would allow the calling of witnesses and testimonies and perhaps some influence on the way an officer is disciplined.
The New York-based youth activist group, Hearing Youth Voices, has an online petition with a list of requests that includes the abolition of the commission in favor of a community police review committee.
Jordan is a member of a new public safety policy review committee and said it expects that the issue of a new police surveillance committee will be a topic of discussion.
The Police Community Relations Committee was established in the 1970s as a way to address the lack of a formal civil complaint process following a lawsuit filed by a Hispanic resident for alleged police discrimination. In 1976, the city accepted a signed consensus grade issued by the Connecticut United States District Court that outlined a complaint procedure that included a 10-day window for the complainant to appeal the results.
The 13-member Police Community Relations Committee was a result of that decree, created in part by the City Council “to discuss questions and problems involved in relations between all segments of the community and the police department, and to recommend to the municipal administration and methods and programs of the municipal council designed to foster a better understanding between citizens and police officers “.
He has also been accused of reviewing citizens’ complaints, which he has done behind closed doors for many years to protect the police from publicly airing complaints against them. While the council now meets in public, the citizens attending the meetings are not yet aware of the documents under consideration during the meetings.
The board appoints the members of the committee. There are slots for representatives of NAACP, the educational community, Hispanic and gay and lesbian communities, alongside the police union and a designated chief of police.
President Gregory Archer said he believes the committee still has a role to play as a conduct between police and citizens, since the police department is represented at every meeting and that citizens are invited to attend and ask questions. He said public participation has grown over the past several meetings. He also admits that the committee has a limited role when it comes to complaints.
“We follow what we are allowed to do … and it’s not much,” he said.
Archer said with renewed interest and with more people attending the meetings, hoping to “give the community the opportunity to express their opinion on what they want to see”.
Kris Wraight, a member of the committee and former president, offers a more critical view of the committee’s work.
“Personally, I don’t want to see the committee continue as it is. I don’t think it serves the needs of the community at all. I’m not sure it’s ever been, “he said.
Wraight said she was involved because she considered him an important watchdog for the community to ensure that people were not mistreated by the police. But for years, she said, the committee was in a state of dysfunction, with struggles following what she called a group stacked with “police cheerleaders”.
Wraight said things have changed and the current affiliation is more collaborative but remains largely helpless. She said she would like to see the city finance an independent investigator since many of the complaints are based on a police officer’s word against a citizen’s word and very often the words of a police officer carry more weight in the investigation.
Police Union President Todd Lynch said he agreed with the committee’s role in providing transparency to the public, but said the committee was established with clear limits on powers that should not be changed.
“The concern you always have is when people who are unfamiliar with the laws, the use of force policies … which makes it difficult for them to determine the results of the investigation,” said Lynch.
He said members should not vote “inadequate” on an investigation simply because it was conducted by the department. He said the department has strict standards on how investigations are conducted and that they have been collectively contracted with the union.
During his tenure, particularly during the administration of former Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, Lynch said that the council chose members “who at least didn’t have the best interests of the police department and certainly had no interest in promoting better.” police community reports. ”
Marie Gravell, one of the founding members of the committee, recalled a time when there were coordinated activities between the police and the committee, something she would like to see a return to.
As Gravell, committee member Kat Goulart said he believed the committee still has a role to play in fostering a relationship with the police, a forum for citizens to have a voice and aerial concerns that could be addressed by the police. .
“It’s an exciting time,” said Goulart, “and we have to evaluate where the problems are and what needs to be changed and how we do it.”
Of the committee’s powers, Goulart said, “It’s a check, but it’s a small check.”
“We can all say that you did a job well enough or you didn’t. We can reasonably assume that, in the climate we are in now and with the establishment of this committee three decades ago, it may be time to change, “he said.
Goulart said that frustration remains over the lack of support from the city, which raised funds for a secretary years ago to record meeting minutes. The notes are now taken by anyone who volunteers. The committee doesn’t get a chance to see things like police dash cam videos during the case review. This could be a bigger problem, considering that the police are ready to start using the body’s cameras.
Even if the powers to review citizens’ complaints had been stolen in favor of another group, Goulart said it would still be involved, as part of the committee’s role should foster community relations with law enforcement agencies, as the name suggests of the committee.
Mayor Michael Passero said that whatever happens in the future will be the result of community consensus.
“Over time, consensus has not been reached on how things could have changed,” said Passero. “We have people who are dissatisfied with the current process. Are we measuring the police control standards that the community wants today? I have a completely open mind on this. There are certainly models with greater civil supervision. “
Sparrow said he expected a “deliberate conversation” on the matter by the public safety policy review committee.
The next meeting of the Police Community Relations Committee is scheduled for July 7. The council recently met in person at the police headquarters, and Archer said he hoped to avoid the technical problems that plagued that meeting and seemed to put aside some public comments.