On Tuesday morning, Mayor Toni Harp presented to the public the findings of an 11 months-long study into various aspects of the New Haven Police Department.
The report, issued by the Mayor’s Community and Police Relations Task Force, outlined findings and recommendations for the department in areas such as use of force, body cameras and recording devices by officers and community policing. Harp was joined by co-chairs Eliezer Greer and Leroy Williams to announce the end of “Phase One” in the ongoing project to improve New Haven’s relationship with its police force.
“Policing is an extension of community, and not another layer to be added over it,” Harp said at the press conference.
The Elm City’s report comes at a particularly timely moment, as people around the nation protest the recent series of fatal police shootings in the U.S., as well as what they deem is an excessive use of police force against African-American citizens.
Harp herself said it was important for this document to be released in New Haven in light of what she termed was a “tragic week” for the country.
Still, Greer noted that the release of the report was not a “knee-jerk reaction” to the events that have been taking place, and that the report was built on many months of work.
The task force was formed by Harp in May 2015, following an incident during a Saint Patrick Day’s parade when a NHPD officer knocked to the ground a 15 year old girl who he subsequently arrested. A standerby caught the entire incident on video, which stirred anger in many throughout the city who took to the streets to protest the officer’s behavior.
Some of the report’s main findings are intentioned to stop that type of incident from occurring again in New Haven.
For example, the report found that NHPD training on use of force “does not currently place a heavy enough emphasis on alternatives to force and arrest.” The report recommended that training should “emphasize de-escalation and alternatives to arrest or summons” when appropriate, and called for higher transparency in documenting instances of police use of force.
“NHPD should create a standard procedure for officers on the scene [in all instances of police use of force] to file a report on the incident,” the report reads.
It later added that officers who witness inappropriate use of force by another officer should be required to intervene and later report the incident and fellow officer in question.
Another focus of the report was a citizen’s right to video. The report recommended that NHPD training should encourage respect for this right, and instruction on how to continue an arrest or other interactions while still being recorded. It also evaluated the current state of New Haven’s community policing.
The report began by calling some of New Haven’s community policing policies “outdated,” and suggested hosting a forum or sending a survey to the community to update the definition of community policing. According to the report, new goals for community should be set and updated on a timely basis.
The report also said it is important that the NHPD “work to build relationships based on trust with immigrant communities,” which would be “central” to guaranteeing New Haven’s overall public safety. The report found that certain community concerns disproportionately affect certain communities, particularly immigrants.
About 12 percent of the Greater New Haven population is foreign-born, a 37 percent hike from 2000 levels, according to a 2015 report by DataHaven.
Lastly, the report also recommended improving working conditions and departmental policies within the NHPD, as well as increasing communication between the NHPD and the general public.
In fact, these two issues are part of a series of events that culminated last week in a 170–42 vote of no confidence against New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman. The vote, organized by New Haven’s police union, was in response to “poor morale, hostile work environments, intimidation, retaliation, lack of leadership quality and [Esserman’s] inability to make sound decisions,” according to a union press release.
The chief himself had few words for the audience on Tuesday, and said only that the task force has been engaged in the community for months, and that New Haven is “the better for it.”
Greer emphasized that the report represented the “voice of the community,” and that it is important now for those in power, such as the Board of Police Commissioners and the Board of Alders, to listen to that voice.
“It’s not the voice of an individual, or the chief, or the clergy,” Greer said. “It’s the voice of the community and it has spoken. We will follow through.”