A standing-room-only crowd Wednesday night blasted a three-years-in-the-making proposal to reestablish a civilian review board on numerous grounds: It took too long to draw up. It has no teeth. And it lacks subpoena and discipline power.
Dozens spoke up against the proposal at a three-hour public hearing Tuesday evening at City Hall before the Board of Alders’ joint Legislation/Public Safety Committee. Community activists said city alders neglected to collaborate with them earlier in the process of drafting the proposal to create an independent 13-member agency to review how police internal affairs handles citizen complaints. Others argued the proposed board lacks independence. City residents relayed personal experiences with police brutality to underscore the importance of the board in overseeing alleged police misconduct.
Instead of voting on the proposal, the committee decided to take the proposal up again next month and continue the hearing.
East Rock Alder Jessica Holmes framed the proposal as the latest step in a multi-year effort, dating even back to 1997. In 2013, a charter revision referendum called for the establishment of a civilian review board (CRB) — one that, to the frustration of some, is still in the making.
“We have to wait three years to get to this point and now we get three minutes each,” Chris Garaffa said. “But it is what it is.”
Under the proposed ordinance, the city’s ten community management teams would propose candidates to the mayor to serve two-year terms on the CRB, which would review all civilian complaints submitted to the police department’s internal affairs division; obtain written IA reports before they go to the police chief for approval; and hear appeals from civilian complainants within 90 days of the completion of IA probe. (Half of the first 10 neighborhood appointees would serve an initial three-year term.) The Board of Alders would select an additional three members of the board. The CRB would have the ability to interview members of the department’s internal affairs division, but not to subpoena and interrogate police officers accused of misconduct. It would have the ability to request the chief to reopen an investigation.
A central point of contention at Wednesday night’s hearing was whether or not the board can legally have subpoena powers. The legislation’s drafters have argued that granting such powers would go against current state law. Copies of an open letter calling for the Board of Alders to lend its subpoena power to the CRB until state law is changed circulated through the meeting.
Other testimony took issue with the CRB’s limited independence and investigative powers. The current proposal allows the board to reopen the department’s Internal Affairs cases, but the CRB would remain reliant on IA to conduct investigations before passing on recommendations to the police chief.
“People are being brutalized, and this is all you can come up with? It’s a disgrace,” said Norman Clement, recounting his own arrest by state police on Feb. 4 during a protest on Route 34. “There’s no power in this civilian review board. For you to be able to just open up an IA investigation after the investigation has already been completed — and biased? Because we know they are biased. We’ve seen Internal Affairs investigations that have been completed, and witnesses have not even been called to testify.”
Camille Seaberry, a research associate at the local DataHaven firm, pulled up concrete data. Citing recent survey numbers, she contrasted the approval rating of municipal police departments statewide (78 percent) to that of New Haven, specifically (51 percent). That number drops even lower when looking specifically at respondents who are black (38 percent) or Latino (47 percent) or those who make less than $30,000 a year (46 percent).
Meanwhile, representatives of New Haven’s police union pushed back on suggestions that the proposed board have power to discipline cops.
Craig Miller, the union’s president, said that some of the demands raised would violate the union contract. For example, decisions regarding discipline can go through only the Police Commission and be handed down by the chief, he said.
“Contracts can change!” a member of the audience interrupted.
Top Newhallville cop and union treasurer Shafiq Abdussabur circled around other issues in the current proposal. Though he said the union supports a program such as the civilian review board, he called into question the logistics of its implementation: Where does it fall in the city budget? Will it draw money from the general fund? Will mayoral appointees be vetted like the ones for the police commission? Where would the board fall within the organizational charts of the police department or city executives?
“Who’s in charge?” Abdussabur asked. “Are they in the union? Whose union? Our union? Where are we putting people?” Committee members didn’t answer.
A number of individuals in high-profile incidents involving city police told their stories Tuesday evening, alleging that cops had profiled, used unnecessary force and lied on later reports against them. A young Christopher Santiago described protesting outside Atticus Bookstore and Cafe, where his father was fired, only to witness the cops handcuff and slam someone to the ground. Nate Blair talked of attending the same protest Clement organized, only to be wrestled to the ground and arrested by officers for an alleged failure to move quickly out of the way. He suffered a concussion.
And Emma Jones, wearing all white, beseeched alders to recognize the need for an independent CRB. Jones is the mother of Malik Jones, who died in 1997 when he was killed by an East Haven police officer after a high-speed car chase into Fair Haven.
“My question is how long, how many lives, many people have to be beaten down in the street, how many people have to be murdered, before this body moves to do the right thing?” she asked.
Jones, who worked on an alternate CRB proposal, suggested a three- to five-year pilot program that would lend the CRB subpoena power before approaching the state to seek official subpoena power — and to craft a statewide CRB.
Interim Police Chief Anthony Campbell spoke late in the hearing, saying he wanted to listen to the voices of others first. “True democracy’s very, very messy, as is demonstrated tonight,” he observed. “I want you to know that as long as I’m the chief of police, the New Haven Police Department will comply with the civilian review board.”
More than one member of the public reminded alders this is an election year.
“We are knocking at your door,” Kerry Ellington addressed the committee. “Let us in.”
It’s funny how the proponents of the CRB always assume that IA complaints are biased and are decided before they are investigating. If that is the case then it’s safe to assume that the CRB “investigations” would be just as biased.
Who is going to investigate and oversee the CRB to ensure they are conducting fair and impartial investigations and if not who and how would they be disciplined, dismissed or arrested if warranted. I can see this being a huge issue that can and will end up in litigation against the city.
posted by: alphabravocharlie on April 6, 2017 8:01am
People, there already is a civilian board with subpoena and disciplinary powers, the Board of Police Commissioners.
posted by: Patricia Kane on April 6, 2017 8:05am
The set up of a Civilian Review Board is literally a matter of life and death as proven by the personal testimony last night of a number of people who experienced police brutality, one of whom almost died. At a Yale Law School teach-in the night before the hearing on the proposal mandated 3 years ago by the Charter Revision Commission, blocked 20 years ago from a Board of Alders vote when Mayor DeStefano announced his own version by Executive Order, Chair Jessica Holmes spoke of the long hours of research and work to produce this CRB by the Committee of part-time legislators. Despite hearing the detailed and thoughtful objections at the teach-in, she opened the public hearing by forcefully stating what the proposed Ordinance would NOT do: would NOT have subpoena power and would NOT discipline police. While cynics view the proposal as designed to accomplish nothing more than put lipstick on a pig, I saw a Committee that did care about setting up something that worked, but perhaps lacked the resources to get past their assumptions as to what feasible. What assistance did the Committee get in trying to solve the issue of subpoena power? Was someone from the Corporation Counsel’s office assigned to research and advise? Could they hire their own counsel? Did they contact the Yale Law School Clinic for help? The Committee did not reach out to the community leaders like Emma Jones, Black Lives matters or Unidad Latina en Accion as part of drafting the proposal. People were very angry about that. It’s not enough for New Haven to tout slogans like Community Policing. A Civilian Review Board that balances the power of an officer with a gun, lasers, pepper spray, riot gear and a SWAT tank is a matter of life and death. It can and should be done.
posted by: wendy1 on April 6, 2017 8:18am
The people pictured here are the heroes and heroines of our city, the ones who make NH valuable. I doubt that they will get what they want but I support their fight for justice that the city needs. I am still greiving over the Holland/Hill case, an obscene twist of local “justice”. The next mayor must make macho moves for our city of color.
Police, a special tribe, a band of brothers and now sisters, desire autonomy. Police everywhere resent interference from city gov. as well as civilians like me. Our cops seem more empathetic than most but we must demand they focus on true crime not the little guy and Toni hasn’t done this. It would actually make their job easier and more efficient. I agree that local police and citizens should get together to purge their gripes on a regular basis (not a CRB). Police on the beat deserve and want our appreciation as well. This is doable here.
posted by: alphabravocharlie on April 6, 2017 10:23am
SWAT tank? Tone the rhetoric down Patty and maybe someone will listen. Why are they trying to reinvent the wheel when all they need to do is retool the BOPC?
posted by: JohnDVelleca on April 6, 2017 12:16pm
“I agree that local police and citizens should get together to purge their gripes on a regular basis (not a CRB). Police on the beat deserve and want our appreciation as well. This is doable here.” - Agreed…enough said, let’s see if anyone listens
posted by: T-ski1417 on April 6, 2017 1:48pm
“Matter of life and Death”........Yeah I’m sure that all the testimony from the meeting was totally 100% true and vetted.
Also it’s not a tank. I’ve seen tanks and their armored vehicle is not a tank. I just curious as to why their armored vehicle is an issue. I would also like to know what lasers you are referring to and lastly what riot gear. Havenst one NHPD officer wearing any?
posted by: Patricia Kane on April 6, 2017 2:11pm
@alphabravocharlie. If you have a report as to the investigations and actions of the Board of Commissioners in the last 20 years, please share it. And yes, I saw the SWAT tank outside Ingall’s rink a week ago. And stop with the condescension charlie. You can call me Attorney Kane. @t-ski1417, reports are NHPD is getting riot gear. the SWAT “vehicle” looked like a tank to me. And to anyone who wants to dismiss that a CRB is a life and death issue, were you there? Was the Latino man who was almost beaten to death lying? Was Holly Tucker lying about being brutally dragged from her car? Were Norman Clement and Nate Blair lying about the violent police actions that injured them? Oh wait. We have video.
posted by: T-ski1417 on April 6, 2017 3:07pm
And what’s the problem with riot gear? Should’nt the police be properly equipped to handle a riot, should one occur??
posted by: T-ski1417 on April 6, 2017 3:11pm
It was on display outside the rink for to public to see during the Police/Fire Hockey Game. Something wrong with that???
posted by: alphabravocharlie on April 6, 2017 3:24pm
Well counselor, no offense intended. The minutes of the BOPC are filed with the City clerk. You can probably go back to day one and analyze their actions.
The Bearcat is not a tank. It has no offensive capabilities. It is an armored vehicle similar to the armored cars used to transport money.
posted by: ChrisNHV on April 6, 2017 6:50pm
I was at the hearing last night and found it very interesting that the only people voicing real support for the Civilian Review Board were from the NHPD. The BoA’s proposal is an affront to the community, and to victims of police terror.
A real Civilian Review Board needs to be independent from the police department, not relying on Internal Affairs - which can’t be trusted. A real Civilian Review Board needs to be empowered to do its own investigations - including subpoena power. A real Civilian Review Board needs to be able to discipline officers, because the NHPD and City Hall are unwilling to do so themselves. Desk duty or paid administrative leave are not appropriate when an officer commits crimes against the people. A real Civilian Review Board needs to be representative of the communities in New Haven, especially those that are most effected by police terror and brutality. That does not include Mayoral appointments.
It took 3 years to get this farce in front of the city. That says a lot about what the Board of Alders thinks of the people.
posted by: jcelrey on April 7, 2017 12:43am
So when a cop asks someone to comply with a lawful order and they don’t then get roughed up somehow a committee of bureaucrat will fix it. How about we teach the citizens of NH to follow the orders of the police. Although I believe the NHPD is robbing the city’s taxpayers blind through the use of a mafia inspired union; the position as an officer of the law should be respected. If a cop is acting outside their scope of responsibility than the mayor’s office should be the overseers of the proper actions to take. But there is a culture of defiance of the police in NH that needs to be addressed but both sides have to do their parts to find a solution. But if the mafia police union is only concerned about lining their pockets nothing is going to happen. I think all unions in the public sector should be abolished, they rip the citizens off. But the Alderman in NH are mostly bankrolled by the unions and bow to their feet, petrified to lose their seats. The elected officials in NH need to have the courage to stand up and do the right thing. Purge the union from the NHPD and give the control and power back to the citizens. Actually, eradicate all unions in the city!
posted by: wendy1 on April 7, 2017 8:34am
Police deliver babies, rescue suicides, force homeless into warm areas during blizzards, arrest burglars and home invaders, help broken rape victims. This is not Ferguson or another ruined town or southern bastion of prejudice and evil or anyplace in Arizona. Not all police are old white brutes. Some of ours are anti-Trump and anti-deportation. My lawyer is angry at me for my first comment (neutral?) but Society requires police enforcement….that is why I submitted that comment. I have never been arrested here even when Bruce Alexander requested it.
posted by: Brutus2011 on April 7, 2017 12:00pm
This is fascinating.
I liked Chief Campbell’s statement, “True democracy’s very, very messy, as is demonstrated tonight,”
Which brings me to my point, perhaps we can suggest to the Board of Ed that a particular emphasis can be made in our schools on civic duty and and how it benefits our community and society?
Much has been made of STEM education but realistically, every student should graduate with a sense of their civic duty and why it is so important.
Then we might not need a CRB in the future.
posted by: sandybeaches on April 7, 2017 9:57pm
Wait- is this board paid? Why would the union be concerned with where they would be placed in the hierarchy? I’m not familiar with the proposal, but this should definately be a volunteer board!
posted by: narcan on April 10, 2017 9:42am
It was made clear from the outset of the hearing that subpoena power is not an option, yet most of what we heard were calls for power over law enforcement from people who expressed nothing but disdain for the idea that anybody would be in a position to tell them “You are not allowed to do that”.
Nobody likes to hear “no”, I suppose, but most of us learned in kindergarten that sometimes acting up in class will mean you have to stand in the corner.
I heard mostly calls to take law, the enforcement thereof, and any discipline for conduct which is supposed to be based on a judgement of facts and turn it into a witch hunt of emotional whimsy that would result in police officers being terminated any time they arrested someone who cried loud enough. Perhaps this is the natural evolution of the moral hazard we have created by all but decriminalizing non-violent crimes?
The idea that politically appointed people with questionable knowledge of law and unknown standard of training would be in a position to discipline or compel testimony from officers is simply absurd.