The first time Sarah Eidelson ’12 ran for the Ward 1 seat in 2011, the largest issue facing the incoming alder was how to approach education and help support the city’s youth. While these issues are still relevant for the aldermanic candidates, crime and policing have taken a newfound place in the spotlight in the race for Ward 1.
In the past year, the role of policing in small cities has sparked national conversation surrounding the relationship between officers and citizens. The Elm City joined that conversation when city activists publicly protested the exoneration of police officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. In January, controversy arose when a Yale police officer pointed his gun at an African-American student, whom he suspected may have been the culprit of a series of on-campus thefts. On St. Patrick’s Day, the issue was again brought up when New Haven police officer Josh Smereczynsky was caught on video aggressively arresting a 15-year-old girl.
“Police brutality, as we all know and have talked about, is an extremely urgent issue nationwide, and in New Haven, and also, as we’ve seen this year, on our own campus,” Eidelson said during the Ward 1 debate last Wednesday.
President Barack Obama has presented community policing as the answer to these increasing tensions between police and residents, and the New Haven Police Department has been nationally recognized for its policies, which require every police officer to walk a beat in the city. NHPD Chief Dean Esserman has been tapped by Obama to be part of an adivsory board examining 21st century policing. Yet, both Democratic platforms for Ward 1 say they want to pursue “real community policing.”
In an interview with the News, Eidelson said this means acknowledging that there are currently inconsistencies in community policing, with some neighborhoods receiving more resources than others, even when considering the proportional and different needs of the community.
She also stressed that her work to help bring forward the Civilian Review Board is an important mission to continue pursuing. The Civilian Review Board, introduced by former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in 2001, was formerly suspended in January for a procedural review. Its intention was to provide a space for residents to address complaints of police misconduct and have a say in how to best discipline officers who receive complaints. This power, Eidelson said, was previously solely held by the Board of Police Commissioners, and so, Eidelson said she wants to see a continued pressure from the Board of Alders to determine who sits on that board.
In the past few weeks, Stark and Eidelson have both impressed upon voters the need to see the Civilian Review Board make a formal return soon. However, neither candidate knew when exactly this would happen, or if there is a concrete timeline currently in place.
As part of his platform, Stark said he wants to also see the Yale Police Department held accountable in a similar format. While he said he is not sure how this would work on a legal standpoint with the YPD being a private police department, Eidelson agreed that it was an option worth considering.
But, both campaigns are advocating for specific policing initiatives, hoping to address the issue of crime more broadly in the city. Stark said that community policing is “on the right path,” but he expressed a desire to improve on it by expanding programs like Project Longevity and YouthStat, programs run by the city intended to deter young people from becoming involved with crime.
“I think, more broadly, everyone having an opportunity to earn a living wage is going to be the strongest deterrent to crime,” Stark said. “I don’t think anyone holding a living wage job is going to be committing crime.”
However, Stark and Eidelson’s challenger in the Ward 1 race, Republican candidate Ugonna Eze ’16 said even this focus is not practically thought out. Mentorship is the way forward, Eze said, when considering how to prevent youth from becoming involved with crime. His proposals will center around providing programs where students can mentor at-risk youths, and help them on a one-on-one basis. Speaking from his own experience in mentorship programs in New Haven and in his hometown of Highland Mills, NY, Eze said he is confident it will be a more efficient project than some of the others laid out by his challengers.
He added that he believes his campaign distinguishes itself from those of the Democratic candidates by not focusing on these “flashy proposals.” Instead, Eze said his approach specifically to community policing is simple: encourage more Yale students to volunteer with the police department.
“This city works through partnership, and community,” Eze said, adding that in his conversations with police sergeants working downtown, he has learned that the NHPD is definitely open to encouraging those volunteering partnerships.
These mentorship programs have not been addressed in as much detail in either Eidelson’s or Stark’s campaign.
Voting for the Democratic primary takes place today at the New Haven Public Free Library on Elm Street.