Civilian Review Board begins planning its oversight of NHPD

Fresh from their morning coffee, the 95 officers who report for duty on the New Haven Police Department’s busiest shift are anxious to jump in their squad cars, hit the streets, and keep the Elm City safe. But soon they may have one thing standing between roll call and active duty: Fair Haven printer Wayne Hobbs.

Hobbs and other members of the Civilian Review Board, the police oversight committee designed to make the community more visibly involved in law enforcement, said at their meeting last Thursday that attending NHPD roll call and giving short presentations might be the most effective way to introduce themselves to the department at large. This decision represents one of several attempts by the burgeoning board to better define its role within the city and the NHPD.

“For the most part, the officers don’t know us and we don’t know them,” Hobbs said. “These presentations look to be a good way of solving both of those issues at once.”

Since its inception, the board has been trying to get out from under a cloud of controversy surrounding its function in the New Haven community. Proponents have argued that its existence is necessary for an accountable NHPD, while some community activists have accused the board of being nothing more than a “paper tiger.” The most vocal of these critics has been Emma Jones, whose son Malik was shot and killed in 1997 by an East Haven police officer. She has said the board in its current form will amount to nothing more than the police policing themselves.

Board Chairman Robert Caplan said the presentations would “get a specific message to [New Haven police] so there isn’t a rumor mill of what our intent is.”

The question of intent was touched upon repeatedly in the meeting, with some members, such as Juanita Wright of the Hill North neighborhood, waxing existential about the purpose of the often-controversial entity.

“We have to think seriously about who we are and why we exist,” Wright said. “Then we have to communicate this to the community.”

But the tone grew less philosophical when newly appointed coordinator Reginald Thomas discussed training possibilities for new members with the Rev. Walter Johnson Jr. of Dixwell and Yale political science professor David Cameron, who represents the East Rock neighborhood.

Thomas, who cut his teeth in the New York Department of Corrections, where he worked the past 25 years, said the rookie pair has two options: attend a NHPD in-service session which lasts from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on any given day, or enroll in the Citizens’ Academy, a summertime police primer for New Haven residents. After several minutes of debate over the two possibilities, Hobbs — who attended the Citizens’ Academy over a year ago — chimed in with his take on the popular summer course.

“It gives you the basics of everything from handcuffing to hate crimes,” he said.

Hobbs later explained that the academy might be beneficial for everyone on the board to attend because of its “well-rounded introduction to police work.”

The board is scheduled to reconvene May 9 at Wilbur Cross High School.

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