In the wake of arrests of two New Haven Police Department officers by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, city officials are looking to outside help to reform the department.
Pending approval by the Board of Alderman, the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based non-profit that conducts research and advocacy relating to police forces, will conduct a 180-day review of the internal workings of the NHPD. The review would cost the city a total of $130,000.
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Craig Frasier, director of management services for PERF, briefed the Board of Aldermen Thursday evening about the organization, its methods and how it intends to review the NHPD. Frasier said the assessment would focus on the department’s investigative and narcotics units.
“We’ll really look carefully at how crimes are investigated in New Haven,” he said.
Frasier said PERF would also reach out to New Haven citizens through a series of focus groups and would keep community members updated about its progress. Such measures are part of the overall goal of restoring community trust in the police department, he said.
“When people do not trust the police department … then people are not going to work with the police closely,” he said. “When that happens, crime goes up.”
PERF’s recommendations to police departments normally include a system of incentives and punishments to recognize good and bad police behavior, with a greater emphasis on early detection and intervention in the cases of officers who are making mistakes, Frasier said.
Instead of reporting to Mayor John DeStefano, PERF would report its findings to an Independent Accountability Team made up of aldermen, criminal defense lawyers, community clergy and members of the Board of Police Commissioners. City Clerk Ron Smith said the accountability team would provide a more independent, apolitical voice and would be more free to be honest and critical.
Smith said the audit is necessary in light of the arrests of Lt. Billy White and Detective Justen Kasperzyk, who were charged with corruption last month following an FBI sting investigation. The review will help the NHPD “emerge stronger,” he said.
“We did have a very serious incident,” Smith said.
But Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez was skeptical of the process when questioning Frasier after the presentation, though he did not explicitly state that he was opposed to the audit. He expressed concern that PERF will repeat the mistakes of past independent auditors, including a lack of transparency and spending more than the proposed budget had allocated.
NHPD Chief Francisco Ortiz, who was present at the meeting, said the police department fully supports the outside audit.
“We will cooperate 100 percent,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for the police department and the community.”
Ortiz said the department does not plan wait until the entire assessment is over to begin instituting change, and will implement the forum’s initial recommendations after the first 45 days.
Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes said he is optimistic about the audit because the process the NHPD will now undergo is similar to the accreditation process that it has resisted in the past.
“I think it’s going to be a positive thing,” he said. “It’s going to be quite an undertaking, and the recommendations have to be followed to a great extent.”