In advance of a public hearing on a proposal to reestablish a civilian review board, activists released an open letter arguing that the bill needs more teeth.
Specifically, the letter takes issue with the bill’s drafter’s argument that a revived civilian review board cannot, under state law, include subpoena powers.
The Board of Alders joint Legislation-Public Safety Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing at City Hall beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday on the bill, which would reestablish a civilian review board (CRB) to monitor internal investigations of alleged police misconduct. A 2011 charter referendum required the creation of the CRB; alders have taken since then to draft the proposal. Click here to read a full story outlining the proposal.
The activists’ letter, released Monday, noted that the charter referendum language included a requirement that the new board be able to “compel testimony from witnesses” in alleged misconduct cases rather than merely interview members of the police department’s internal affairs division about their investigations, as the current bill proposes.
In the letter, the activists call for the CRB not to come under the purview of the city’s corporation counsel office, since that office represents the city in police misconduct lawsuits; and that the CRB conduct its own investigations rather than merely review those conducted in-house by the police.
The bill’s drafters said their research convinced them that state law forbids giving the CRB subpoena power. The activists’ letter calls for having the Board of Alders lend the CRB its existing subpoena power until a statewide CRB can be established with subpoena power.
The letter comes during a time of widespread public dissatisfaction with the ability, or inability, of the police department to police itself. The letter was signed by the following groups: People Against Police Brutality, The M.A.L.I.K. Organization, CTCORE - Organize Now!, Black Lives Matter New Haven, SURJ (Showing up for Racial Justice) New Haven, New Haven Educators Collective, Yale Black Law Students Association Executive Board, Yale Law School National Lawyers Guild, Yale Law Outlaws.
The text of the letter follows:
To the New Haven Board of Alders,
The community has demanded an effective Civilian Review Board for the past two decades. Your recent proposal to revive the Board falls fundamentally short, and will not provide the community with a real tool to hold the police accountable. We respectfully request that the Board of Alders reimagine its proposal, incorporate essential elements from the M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson proposal and open the process to allow for expansive community involvement.
Twenty years ago, 21-year-old New Haven resident Malik Jones was brutally gunned down by East Haven Officer Robert Flodquist. Since then, Emma Jones, the M.A.L.I.K. Organization, and the New Haven community have organized tirelessly to hold police officers to their oaths to “protect and serve.”
In 2000, New Haven residents voted overwhelmingly in support of the M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson All-Civilian Review Board, an independent review board with investigatory and subpoena power. An illegal executive order by Mayor DeStefano hamstrung the board, leaving it only with the power to rubber stamp police Internal Affairs investigations. We were not satisfied then and we are not satisfied now.
In 2013, the city voted for a revised charter including a mandate for an empowered and independent Civilian Review Board. Our basic demand is that Alders create a Civilian Review Board worthy of our charter—one that conducts investigations “fairly and independently, and in such a manner that the public has confidence.” The current Board of Alders proposal falls short of this mandate.
We have seen many instances where police officers unnecessarily harmed or killed residents, violated their constitutional rights, and treated them in ways that assaulted their dignity. We know too many victims of police violence. The board established in 2000 by Mayor DeStefano’s illegal executive order was not an effective method of holding police accountable. This recent Board of Alders proposal makes no fundamental changes to that model. No reasonable person should expect a board so similar to be any more effective.
We demand an open, transparent, and public process. More than two years ago, at a public hearing on this issue, Legislative Committee Chairperson Jessica Holmes said, “As we begin to develop the language for the ordinance, there are many partners who we will need to work with…I envision there being a publicly-noticed meeting, even prior to writing the document, before creating the formal language….” The Board of Alders has not lived up to Alder Holmes’ statement. We want public-facing meetings to decide how police will be overseen in our communities.
We demand that the Board of Alders commit, by ordinance, to exercise its power to compel testimony on behalf of the Civilian Review Board. The City Charter makes clear that the Board of Alders has the “power to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses… by the issue of subpoenas and the administration of oaths in the manner and according to the rules governing the same in courts of justice,” and remove from office or employment any city employee who fails to comply. The Board of Alders must use this power on behalf of the Review Board to subpoena those who refuse to testify and sanction those who refuse to comply. Further, the police department must be ordered to share all requested information and require its employees to testify to the Review Board.
We demand that the Civilian Review Board conduct its own investigations. The well-documented “Blue Wall of Silence”—collaborated and coordinated police cover-ups—makes it impossible for the police to police themselves. There is no world in which an Internal Affairs investigation of police misconduct is “impartial” or “independent” as required by the charter. The Civilian Review Board must be empowered to conduct its own investigations in order to be in compliance with the Charter.
We demand that the Civilian Review Board be truly independent and free from possible conflicts of interest. The current proposal houses the Civilian Review Board within the Office of Corporation Counsel—the same office that is charged with protecting the City of New Haven from legal liability. An independent Civilian Review Board will expose police misconduct, which is a liability to the city. This conflict is plain and unavoidable. Civilian Review Board staff must report only to the Board, and the Board must be allowed to retain its own lawyers.
Major changes are needed to ensure that this Board can accomplish its stated goals and satisfy the City Charter. We urge the Board of Alders to open the drafting process to the New Haven community and make the necessary changes. In addition to this letter, we offer a skeletal outline of what we consider to be the essential elements of an effective Civilian Review Board. These recommendations fit squarely within the language of the Charter, and, unlike the Board of Alders’ most recent proposal, would lay the foundation for an empowered board that would be in compliance with the Charter mandate. We ask that these recommendations be incorporated into a city ordinance establishing a Civilian Review Board in New Haven. This Board should act as a pilot program for a Statewide Civilian Review Board. We ask that the City establish a local pilot board for a time period of three years so that we have time to assess its effectiveness, and work with the State Legislature to establish an independent, statewide board with its own enforceable subpoena power.
People Against Police Brutality
The M.A.L.I.K. Organization
CTCORE - Organize Now!
Black Lives Matter New Haven
SURJ (Showing up for Racial Justice) New Haven
New Haven Educators Collective
Yale Black Law Students Association Executive Board
Yale Law School National Lawyers Guild
Yale Law Outlaws
Recommendations for the Civilian Review Board
Based on the M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson All-Civilian Review Board proposal, and supported by the recently revised city charter.
• The Board of Alders should hold public hearings in each community in New Haven to solicit public input for the drafting of this ordinance.
• The ordinance should include at least the following:
• The Civilian Review Board shall be independent.
• Independent of the Police department and Internal Affairs.
• Independent meeting space.
• Subpoena Power.
• The CRB shall have the power to compel witness testimony.
• The Board of Alders shall exercise subpoena power on behalf of the CRB initially until and unless state legislation has authorized the establishment of Statewide board with subpoena power.
• Independent Investigation.
• The CRB shall have the power to hire and train people to become qualified investigators.
• These investigators shall be neither current nor retired police officers.
• The CRB shall retain a volunteer, retired police officer to consult on police policy and procedure.
• The CRB shall include a complaint administrator, at least two investigators, a public relations officer, and an administrative assistant.
• The CRB shall retain a pro bono attorney.
• Powers and Duties.
• The CRB shall have the following powers and duties:
• Receive and investigate complaints.
• Hold hearings.
• Subpoena witnesses.
• Hire and train staff.
• Establish rules and procedures to expedite the boards work.
• The CRB shall include representative from each of the ten communities in which there is a police substation in addition to three at-large appointees. All members shall be appointed by the Mayor subject to approval by the Board of Alders.
• The CRB shall include an additional 3 at-large appointees recommended to the Mayor by the Board of Alders.
• Policies and Procedures.
• The CRB shall enact additional policies and procedures (bylaws) for its internal operation.
• Board Meetings.
• The CRB shall meet once every month at a regularly scheduled time and date and at an appropriate public facility determined by the chairperson of the board.
• Right to Legal Representation.
• All parties have a right to legal representation at every phase of the complaint filing and review process.
• Requirement of Cooperation by Police Department and other city officials and employees.
• The police department and other city officials and employees shall, except as explicitly prohibited by law, respond promptly to any and all reasonable requests for information made by the CRB.
• Discipline and Sanction.
• If upon thorough complete and impartial investigation, the CRB finds an officer to have committed misconduct, the board shall recommend appropriate disciplinary action.
• Any disciplinary action exceeding 15 days shall be forwarded to the Police Chief for further action.
• In cases of excessive force, the CRB shall recommend a Grand Jury investigation and independent prosecution.
• Data Collection and Reporting
• The CRB shall collect and report data on the civilian complaint process that will allow the public to assess the effectiveness of both Internal Affairs and the CRB’s own investigations.
• Published Reports.
• The CRB shall publish all findings in the City Record each month.
• The CRB’s published findings shall be made publicly available online.
• The city of New Haven shall provide adequate funds for the CRB to hire staff, acquire office space, obtain equipment, and cover any expenses related to board operations.
• The CRB members shall comply with all relevant state statutes regarding confidentiality.