At a time of significant nationwide protests in the wake of controversial jury decisions in Ferguson and New York, the meetings of the New Haven Civilian Review Board have been suspended.
The board hears complaints made by civilians relating to unprofessional police conduct and recommends revisions to police departmental policies. Established by an executive order from former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in 2001, the board last met in September and will not meet again until the Board of Alders drafts and passes an ordinance creating a new version of the board.
In the past, community activists including Emma Jones — whose son was killed by East Haven police in Fair Haven in 1997 after he was involved in a car chase — have criticized the board for lacking real power over the actions of police officers. New Haven Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter said that the coordinator of the board originally held a full-time position, but the city had to cut the position to part-time due to budget cuts. By law, the board cannot have subpoena power, Carter said, but it can review cases concerning the police and provide an outlet for residents to raise complaints.
“I’m interested in a board that is responsive and can help improve relations between the police and our community,” said Ward 9 Alder and Chair of the Legislative Committee Jessica Holmes who, along with Ward 29 Alder Brian Wingate, is spearheading the effort to create a new iteration of the board. “It’s very important that people who feel like their rights have been violated by the police have a means of remedying that and of addressing their concerns.”
The alders were given the authority to redesign the board as part of the charter revisions approved by voters in November 2013.Holmes did not comment on when this new iteration could potentially be formed.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer agreed with Holmes on the importance of the board. He said that, although it was established under the DeStefano administration, Mayor Toni Harp has embraced the board’s role. Establishing solid community relations between the police and residents remains a priority, he said, and the board can serve as a way of ensuring stability and providing needed public relations for the New Haven Police Department.
When considering the structure of the new board, alders will take into account public input and work to ensure that the board has sufficient funding, while also accurately representing the New Haven population, Carter said.
Holmes said she wants to see a board more engaged with police and the community than the previous one, and a space where residents can bring and address their complaints against police actions. In an earlier interview with the News, community leaders, including State Senator Gary Holder-Winfield, said that tensions between the police and residents do exist in New Haven.
Grotheer said that Mayor Harp was pleased with the NHPD’s response to Ferguson-related protests that occurred in the city late last year.
In the coming months, the city will work with the Board of Alders to create the new board, said Carter, adding that the board is needed to ensure good relations between the police and the communities they patrol.
“We need to get it going again and make it more functional and operational, and make it a go-between so that we have better community relations,” he said.
A public workshop will be held on Jan. 29 as a chance for the alders and other public officials to receive input from the public on the future of the board.