New London – A special committee to review the policies and practices of the New London Police Department has suggested the formation of a Civilian Police Review Committee and a charter amendment to pave the way for the creation a police commission.
The months of work of the Public Safety Policy Review Committee are summed up in a 17-page report with a list of recommendations, with short- and long-term goals, aimed at providing more community oversight and policing accountability.
The report, guided by new state law on police accountability, was submitted to Mayor Michael Passero this week.
The committee does not call for an outright cut in the police budget, but advocates a restructuring of police funds and a “holistic approach to budgeting for public safety and support services.” “.
This approach could possibly include the participation of the city council in the negotiations of police contracts and an increase in the funding of the social services department. The report suggests that some police funding be shifted to things like crisis intervention and anti-racism training in the department.
“In line with national trends, where possible, the mayor and city council should do everything possible to redirect funding and resources from police services to education and social services,” the report said.
The committee looked at models in other communities where special units have been established to respond to emergency calls regarding mental health, substance abuse, sexual or family violence, and other social issues. The idea is that city residents are best served when there is an alternative to sending an armed police officer on every call.
Councilor Curtis Goodwin, a committee member, said it made sense to offer alternatives when responding to emergencies, given the high volume of calls for issues such as domestic disputes or related to mental illness .
The group had met with representatives from the Denver Police Department and the Denver Co-Responder Initiative Mental Health Center, who implemented a criminal justice diversion model “that brings together law enforcement and experts. Behavioral Health to intervene and respond to behavioral health calls. for the police department.
The impetus for the committee’s scrutiny of the department was the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis in 2020. Floyd’s murder has led to nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality and included local support for policing issues raised in the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The committee began meeting in June based on an idea pioneered by Passero and Connecticut College, whose dean of equity and institutional inclusion, John F. McKnight Jr., served as the group’s facilitator. .
Tamara Lanier, NAACP New London Chapter vice-president and committee member, said the group never lost sight of the reasons they got together.
“Each member brought to the discussion a frustration with the death of George Floyd and a genuine desire to build a more responsible, inclusive and community-based police service,” Lanier said.
The cross-section of committee members, Lanier said, had different opinions, but all agreed and “absolutely insisted on” forming an independent police commission.
“Concerns were expressed about conflicts with the city charter in the role of a strong mayor, but members felt that the commission was too large and that we would work within the limits of the charter to frame such a commission. She said.
Passero said that an important part of the report is that some of the ideas, such as creating a civilian review board, could be launched almost immediately.
“There are practical steps we can take quickly to try to build community confidence in our policing efforts,” Passero said.
The Civilian Police Review Board could be established by city council and could, depending on the model used, investigate allegations of police misconduct or take over the review of investigations by the Community Relations Committee. existing policewoman. The review board, unlike the limited powers of the Police Community Relations Committee, could have subpoena powers to compel witnesses and provide for the presentation of evidence, as well as the ability to review police department policies. .
Forming a police commission is a more complex process that includes the creation of a charter review board and possibly a referendum vote, Passero said. The police board would help guide hiring and firing decisions, as well as other personnel issues in the police department.
“While we believe that a commission will greatly enhance police accountability by granting the power to hire and fire officers, we also recognize that establishing will require a lot of time and political will, starting with the process. revision of the city charter and the contract. negotiations with the police union, ”the report said.
Passero said he was encouraged by the report’s focus on the Social Services Department’s partnership, a department he created shortly after taking office in recognition of the many social issues facing the city. The department is made up of a single city employee: the director of social services Jeanne Milstein.
Funding for an expansion of the department or its extension to external social service agencies, Passero said, would be something explored during the budget process, but he said his urge was to partner with an external agency. , such as Sound Community Services.
Goodwin said he would favor a phased approach to tackle some of the funding issues to ensure the police service remains adequately staffed. Mere “funding” of the police, he said, could be devastating for public safety infrastructure.
He said council has been kept apprised of the report’s recommendations and expects a timely discussion on establishing a civilian police review committee with input from members of the police community relations committee. to make sure there are no layoffs.
“Ultimately, we want to make sure our citizens feel protected… and have a fair and just review process,” Goodwin said.
Overall, he said the process was “genuine, thoughtful and very intentional.” He expects the changes within the department to be partly rooted in new recruits who will have benefited from the city’s investment in up-to-date training and help strengthen the relationship between the department and the community.
“I am grateful for the committee’s hard work on this important review,” Passero said in a statement. “I owe this group a huge debt and gratitude for their advice and guidance. I am convinced that this work will advance the objective of ensuring that our police force reflects the values and expectations of our community.
The report recognizes the ministry’s existing strengths: crisis response training, updates to use of force policies, and the recent implementation of a body camera and dashboard program.
Other recommendations in the report include developing a recruiting pipeline to encourage more recruits who represent the city’s racial makeup; engagement with youth organizations; changes to staffing structures that include certain ratios of sergeants to patrollers; developing a formal process for evaluating agent performance; and the elimination of the school resource officer program.
Among the report’s recommendations to improve community relations was a change in social media policies within the police department to curb what some viewed as bullying messages by the local police union.