Civilian Review Board prepares for changes

Throughout a sometimes contentious campaign season, the two mayoral candidates — Toni Harp ARC ’78 and her opponent Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 — agreed upon the need to reorganize the city’s Civilian Review Board.

The Civilian Review Board, which Mayor John DeStefano Jr. formed in 2001, met on Thursday night for the first time after New Haven residents voted earlier this month to incorporate it into the city charter. The board is responsible for reviewing how the New Haven Police Department handles civilian complaints about officer misconduct. Now that it has become a permanent body in city government, the board will see a staffing increase, assume its own meeting space and build a joint database with the police department to monitor complaints.

The new Board of Aldermen will begin certifying changes authorized by the charter reform items that passed earlier this month at its first meeting in January 2014. The board has not yet determined when it will review the changes to the Civilian Review Board.

“There has been concern among many people that the [Civilian Review Board] is not chartered, and can be removed with a stroke of the mayor’s pen — this will change,” said board member Frank Cochran, who has been charged with overseeing the implementation of changes to the board’s structure.

Though the board only existed until now under a mayoral executive order, it has held monthly public meetings since June 2001 to review civilian complaints regarding the misconduct of city police officers. The board sees 100–130 complaints per year, according to Lieutenant Tony Duff of the Internal Affairs Department, and confirms that they are fairly investigated by the Internal Affairs Department at the NHPD.

Duff reported 11 civilian complaints and one internal complaint reported to the NHPD this year.

“No complaints were out of the ordinary this month,” he said. “Mostly verbal abuse.”

During his presentation, several board members posed questions about previous cases and the relationship between the two bodies. The board’s secretary, Leslie Radcliffe, asked whether the lieutenant and his colleagues had followed up on a civilian complaint of unnecessary roughness relating to handcuffs from an earlier meeting.

Board Chair Barbara Carroll voiced concern that the NHPD is not issuing letters about civilian complaints immediately after they are filed, a procedure on which the two bodies had previously agreed.

The changes, which were mandated by the charter reform measure, will help ensure the board follows the procedure outlined in its bylaws, said board member George Carter. Although the bylaws specify that the board should discuss complaints during meetings, most board members do not read about cases until after the meeting.

“We don’t discuss these cases at this table. That’s all I’m saying,” Carter said. “And we should.”

Following discussion of complaints put forward this month, the board nominated members for the positions of chair, vice-chair and secretary. Ward 24 Alderwoman Evette Hamilton, who attends Civilian Review Board meetings, nominated Carroll to stay on as chair. Carroll said that she will accept the nomination for chair, but with the knowledge that the entire board could change in January, when Harp will be inaugurated as mayor.

The board saw fewer complaints this month than it did in October.

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