At a Thursday evening meeting of the Mayor’s Police and Community Task Force, Mayor Toni Harp addressed the task force’s recommendations for increasing diversity in the New Haven Police Department.
Task force members Dr. Leroy Williams and Rabbi Eliezer Greer co-chaired the 14-person meeting, which also included Interim Chief of Police Anthony Campbell, Greater New Haven NAACP President Dori Dumas, Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur, members of the Board of Police Commissioners and community residents.
“We are doing things much differently than any other police department in the U.S.,” Harp said. “Is it perfect? Absolutely not. You’re helping us identify ways to improve.”
The task force recently submitted a report to Harp arguing that the NHPD does not reflect the demographics of New Haven. While African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos constitute nearly 60 percent of the city population, they make up only 47.5 percent of the NHPD ranks, according to the report. In one of last year’s recruitment classes, there were 1,500 applicants, of which 350 were members of underrepresented groups. Ultimately, only four African American candidates were accepted into the class.
According to the report, the “unanticipated and dramatic reduction of minority candidates entering the Academy is not only due to faults in the recruitment of minorities, but also with specific aspects of the [admissions] process.”
The report recommends the NHPD develop a strategic plan within the next three to six months to guide the recruitment and retention of Community Patrol Officers. In terms of recruitment, its recommendations include expanding community outreach and diversity awareness, in addition to creating a partnership with the NHPD Health Care Center so that the cost of the required medical physical exam, which can range from $300 to $1000, does not preclude applicants without health insurance. Also, the report recommends outsourcing background checks so that an applicant is not unfairly favored if they have previous connections to the NHPD. According to the report, the Academy’s drug policy — which requires applicants to have not smoked marijuana in the past two years — should be clarified, and finally, the psychological exam should be revised so that the examiners are not in communication with, and thus independent from, the NHPD.
Harp said she has met with Interim Chief Anthony Campbell to discuss the psychological test administered to potential recruits, which according to the task force is often a barrier to underrepresented applicants. She said that efforts should be made to ensure that the tests are “culturally competent” and “accurate.”
Harp added that she was concerned with the way in which past usage of marijuana bars many from the recruitment process. Since marijuana usage is an infraction in Connecticut, she said, it does not make sense that someone who has used it within the past two years should be prevented from becoming a police officer.
According to the task force report, the NHPD has “suffered attrition of officers leaving for higher salaries and benefits offered by nearby municipalities,” and so the NHPD must increase officers’ salaries to increase retention rates. At the meeting, Harp acknowledged the salary discrepancy, saying, “we’re aware that we don’t pay well enough here.”
Additionally, according to the report, “disparities in discipline” — the disproportionate disciplining of underrepresented officers — decrease officer retention. The report’s other recommendations include improving mentorship programs, continuing education options and encouraging officers to live in New Haven through a property tax abatement program.
Before leaving, Harp thanked the members of the task force for their nearly two years of work and said that the task force’s efforts must continue.
“We’ve reduced crime for five years in a row,” she said. “It’s because we’re onto something. I really think that this group can continue to fine-tune this relationship.”
Howard Boy, a community activist and member of the task force, thanked the mayor for enabling community involvement through the task force, saying that before it was formed police-community relationships were “going to be a big bonfire.”
After Harp’s departure, the task force turned to its next goals, one of which includes publishing the NHPD’s General Orders, or procedural policies, online to increase transparency and accessibility. One of the main goals of the task force had been to update and reorganize the General Orders, which had not been revised in two decades, according to co-chair Greer.
Rodney Williams, Ward 21 co-chairman, asked whether the task force would address racial profiling by police officers against underrepresented residents of New Haven.
“As a resident, we feel that if we put our hands on someone else, we get arrested, it’s against the law,” he said. “But when cops do that, nothing happens.” He added that there are too many incidents, both local and national, in which police officers are not held accountable for misbehavior.
Abdussabur responded by saying that New Haven should be measured on its own terms and that it is not similar to cities like Baltimore or Chicago, where in some cases police officers arrested for infractions against citizens did not serve jail time.
“You’re at the table. We’re community activists on the other side of the police line,” he said.
After the meeting, Greer expressed optimism that the task force’s recommendations would be met, saying that they had the support of both Campbell and Harp.
“We have a majority,” he said. “Dr. Williams and I met with Chief Campbell privately on the recruiting issue about a month ago, and he was completely on board.”
The Mayor’s Police and Community Task Force was formed in May 2015.