Pressure Postpones Cop Review Vote

Markeshia Ricks PhotosTwo weeks.

That’s about how long activists pushing for a strong civilian review board (CRB) have to convince alders that citizens seeking to keep cops accountable should have subpoena power.

The Board of Alders had planned to vote at a City Hall meeting Monday night to approve an ordinance that would create a long-awaited new version of a CRB, as required by a 2013 charter referendum.

Then the alders decided to postpone the decision two weeks to give activists — who overwhelmingly dismiss the current proposal as toothless — one more chance to change their minds.

Activists had made what they thought might be a last stand Friday during a rally on the steps of City Hall with hopes of getting alders to hold off on voting and reconsider creating a CRB with little power to investigate police misconduct. That rally ultimately resulted in a sit-down with Mayor Toni Harp Monday afternoon. Harp had said on WNHH radio’s “Mayor Monday” show that she believes the activists made good points worth considering.

Though the word seemed to have spread to many that the vote would be postponed, nearly 100 people showed up to Monday’s meeting. Norman Clement said many people turned out to make sure that that was in fact what would happen.

With little fanfare, Majority Leader Richard Furlow repeated what he’d said at the public caucus 30 minutes before the board’s full meeting: Colleagues by consensus had agreed to pass over the item. In short order, they moved on to other more routine items such as mayoral appointments and a resolution expressing condolences on the recent death of the 41st President George H.W. Bush.

Activists stayed until Board President Tyisha Walker-Myers asked for a motion to adjourn, with many of them hanging back at the close of the meeting to talk with alders.

Chris Garaffa was among the activists who had an opportunity to sit down with Mayor Harp earlier Monday. He said the postponed vote gives CRB supporters a little more time to work on reaching out to alders and educating them. (Read more here about the outcry against the current version of the ordinance before the board.)

“Nothing would better than what they proposed,” he said.

One key sticking point is whether the CRB should have subpoena power. It wouldn’t under the current version of the ordinance. Activists argue that experience in other cities shows that without subpoena power, a CRB has little force to probe police misconduct and protect citizens’ rights.

President Pro Tem and Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison disagreed. Though she has voiced concerns that alders don’t have the authority to grant subpoena power to a CRB and that state law must give alders that authority, Morrison is very much in favor of a new CRB.

“Every day we go without a CRB is a day that my brother, my son, my colleagues who are black, brown and male and my constituents are subject to not having their rights protected,” she said.

Morrison said her belief that the alders cannot give subpoena power to another board is rooted in the research that has been compiled for alders by legislative staff. She said if there were a state law that explicitly said it was OK, she wouldn’t hesitate. The city’s corporation counsel has argued that the alders do have the ability to confer subpoena power; activists have suggested several ways to do it.

Majority Leader Furlow said that alders will be requesting an updated opinion from the city’s Corporation Counsel on the issue of subpoena power.

“We just want to protect our city from litigation,” he said.

Activists and some members of the board have advocated for creating a CRB that has independent investigatory powers and the authority to recommend disciplinary action. They also recommend that members be selected from approved neighborhood organizations and that the new board collects and report data about its activities. They also recommend that the board get 1.5 percent of the city police department’s operating budget so that it has the staff and resources needed to help facilitate its work.

EINO SIERPE PHOTOSPresident Walker-Myers said that several members had amendments that they wanted to add. She decided not to begin the process of considering those amendments Monday night because other alders didn’t have enough time to review them.Everyone agreed to pull back so people can submit their amendments and give the entire board an opportunity to review them.

“The work is going to be done,” she said. “All of the amendments will be looked at an vetted and then we’ll see where we’re at. “

She encouraged people who want to have a say about what should go in the ordinance to submit their information so that it can be considered as alders make amendments.

One of the alders who will be making amendments is Steve Winter. Among several suggested changes, the Prospect Hill/Newhallville/Dixwell alder wants to specifically make it clear that the CRB would have subpoena power. (See his markups of the proposed ordinance here and read a letter he wrote to his board colleagues here.)

“The charter demands a CRB that instills public confidence,” he said after the meeting. “It will take significant changes to make this ordinance that.”

Emma Jones said she’s seen the process of creating CRB through now two mayors, and different members of the Board of Alders. And the only things that seem to change are the faces of the elected, not the amount of knowledge that people have on the issue of why a CRB is necessary, she said. She said that means that those who support a strong CRB often have to educate and re-educate alders through endless hearings.

“I’m just exasperated with all of the doing,” she said.

Jones is the mother of Malik Jones, who was shot dead in 1997 by an East Haven police officer after a high-speed car chase into Fair Haven.

“I’m hoping that this is not a pause to come back and do the same thing,” she said. “I hope it’s an opportunity for the board and the community to come together jointly and do the right thing. That’s what my hope is.”

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posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 4, 2018  9:13am

Without the power to subpoena documents and witnesses, the Civillian Review Board becomes merely the Cilvillian Board.

Rev. Ross-Lee

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on December 4, 2018  9:26am

Has the Corporation Counsel issued a formal opinion on whether the BOA can grant the board subpoena power?

posted by: Hill Resident on December 4, 2018  11:51am

Part I

First – know the laws /statutes already established. According to CT General Statutes 7-274, 76 & 79.

Sec. 7-274. Establishment of town police commissions. Any town may, by ordinance, establish a board of police commissioners to be elected, in accordance with the provisions of Section 9-201 or to be appointed by the council or board of directors of a town … for the purpose of organizing and maintaining a police department in such town.

Sec. 9-201. Election of five-member boards of police commissioners. Any town… shall elect two members of the board of police commissioners to serve for a term of two years and three for four years.

Sec. 7-276. Powers of commissioners. Such boards shall have … general management and supervision of the police department …, shall make all needful regulations for the government thereof not contrary to law and may prescribe suitable penalties for the violation of any such regulation, including suspension or removal from office of any officer or member of such police department.

Sec. 7-279. Subpoena to appear before municipal police commissioners. The chief executive officer of any municipality, the clerk of the board of police commissioners in any municipality or any justice of the peace may sign and issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses before the board of police commissioners in such municipality at any lawful meeting of such board. … Any person upon whom such process has been legally served shall appear ... testify as to any matters lawfully pending before such board. If any person upon whom such a subpoena has been served refuses to attend before such board, the clerk of such board… may issue a capias… to arrest such witness and bring him before the board to testify; and, in case such person refuses to testify, the board shall have the power to adjudge such person to be in contempt and may issue a mittimus … and commit such person to a community correctional center for not more than thirty days.

posted by: Hill Resident on December 4, 2018  11:57am

Part II

The City of New Haven Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) whose members are elected by the town or appointed by the town board of directors (BOA) already has the power to do what folks want the Civilian review Board (CRB) to be able to do. Instead of creating a new board, why not compel the BOPC that already has the power AND responsibility, to do what it was designed to do? If the current BOA is not going to compel the BOPC to do what they are supposed to do, then THEY should be held accountable. The BOPC has the power to prescribe penalties for violations of police regulations (General Orders) including suspension and removal from office. The BOPC HAS SUPOENA POWER!!! But let’s be clear, they can call witnesses to appear, but they cannot compel testimony. Any individual can invoke their Fifth Amendment Rights which protect individuals from being compelled to be witnesses against themselves in criminal cases. So neither the BOPC, the CRB, the States Attorney nor the Supreme Court can compel anyone to be a witness against themselves… they have the right to remain silent and not incriminate themselves. If the witness is another police officer, they’re already under oath during an IA investigation, and if their testimony is found to be false, they are subject to criminal penalties. And if any other evidence is a part of a current criminal investigation, you can be assured that no one but the states attorney is going to have it.

We have to at least know the process and put it to use to see if it doesn’t work. I agree that the more vociferous cries for a CRB with subpoena power are coming from individuals who have clearly demonstrated that ‘they don’t trust the police’, and THAT is the problem to be addressed. Don’t’ create CRB to do what the BOPC has within its power to do but is not doing. Hold the BOPC accountable, hold the BOA accountable to make sure the BOPC is doing what it is supposed to do. We have enough wheels, we don’t need to invent another one.

posted by: wendy1 on December 5, 2018  12:30pm

Gutless wonder BOA tables anything worth voting on period.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 5, 2018  3:11pm

Interesting Post, Hill Resident!

An Elected Police Commission…? (with 2-3 Civilians)
A BOA with genuine commitment to oversight?

It does sound like the mechanisms ‘exist’, but the Machine is so clunky and rusty that it is barely able to idle.

posted by: Billy on December 5, 2018  9:03pm

Thank you to the activists who made a point of being at the BOA meeting to ensure that the alders take another look at this.  Kudos to the photographer who took the great photo of Adam Marchand being held to account by his constituents.

I totally agree with Rev. Ross-Lee.  The review board must have subpoena power.  It is essential for it to be an effective check on police abuse.  If the police are not abusing power, they have nothing to fear from an empowered civilian review board which stands up for the rights of people at a power serious disadvantage during interactions and investigations by NHPD.  If it’s not that simple at its core, I must be missing something.

Time for the alders to hear the will of the people in New Haven and find a way to grant subpoena power.  Their work is not to tell us it’s not possible.  Their work is to make it possible.

posted by: Billy on December 5, 2018  9:08pm

And, why in the world is the BOA issuing condolences for the passing of a war criminal and leader who denied help to people dying from AIDS, just because his blue blood cred and Skull and Bones connections got him into the Oval Office? Disgraceful.

posted by: fcastle1984 on December 6, 2018  1:33pm

When taxes go up in New Haven again, Im going to protest to East Haven’s mayor. Actually, let’s just hold East Haven accountable for everything wrong in NH. That seems to be the message here.

If NHPD officers break the law, the State of CT Prosecutors will bring them up on charges if warranted.

All this is is another axe for the community to grind officers to their delight. Let’s give civilians with no legal background the right to pick and choose everything they want to review. And they want part of NHPDs budget to pay for this. But at the same time, lets blame Chief Campbell for OT.

They want to recommend disciplinary action, too. This is great. So an Officer yells at an unsavory person because he/she knows yelling might cause the unsavory person to think twice. But the CRB member finds this offensive and demands the officer suspended. Officer gets suspended to pander to CRB requests. Other officers, seeing what happened, play nice with the unsavory person they’re dealing with out of fear of reprisal from the CRB. But this unsavory person sees this as weakness, and then assaults the officer(s). The officers then use physical force thereby harming the unsavory character. All could have been avoided, but bc NH panders to this, people now get hurt.

Honestly, I hope this passes. I do. Anyone considering a lateral transfer here will re-think their decision. Anyone working for NH not eligible for retirement will also consider staying. I imagine this will have a cascade effect. This might be the day the City Of NH has been longing for forever: the demise of NHPD.

The City creates these problems b/c they pander to everyone. When the crime inevitably goes through the roof, the City needs to live with the problems the pandering “leaders” created.

Its time to put the for sale sign up and move. The taxes, the pandering, the spineless leadership, the stealing, etc, is causing NH to rot from within.