Nearly four years after New Haven residents voted to establish a civilian review board, the Legislation Committee of the Board of Alders put forth a proposal and sought public opinion Wednesday night. This new plan to monitor and review police misconduct, however, was met with strong criticism from community members, including local activists and victims of police brutality.
About 100 residents and 20 alders attended the meeting, which began with a presentation on the newly proposed ordinance for the CRB. This was followed by a two-hour public hearing, during which attendees expressed discontent in relation to the proposed CRB’s lack of subpoena power and inability to discipline officers in accordance with its findings.
Ward 22 Alder and Co-Chair of the Legislation Committee Jeanette Morrison briefly introduced the proposal and highlighted some key changes from the previous CRB. The new ordinance would allow the CRB to be notified of any police misconduct complaints within 48 hours of their filing with the New Haven Police Department’s internal affairs department. Previously, the CRB was informed only after internal investigations concluded, Morrison said. She added that the new CRB would make recommendations to the police chief for every complaint and that a formal agreement would be established with the Yale Police Department, which carries the same policing authority as the NHPD.
Under the proposed plan, one member of the CRB would be selected from each of the 10 community districts and at least three at-large members would be handpicked by the Board of Alders. Law enforcement officers and elected officials would be ineligible for membership.
Morrison acknowledged the dissatisfaction of many of the hearing attendees because community members were not able to offer input during its drafting, but explained that the legislative branch of the city government is required to draft a “boilerplate” version to provide the community with a foundation on which to make suggestions.
At the hearing, Jessica Holmes, Ward 9 alder and Co-Chair of the Legislation Committee, acknowledged the public demand for subpoena power but underscored that this is prohibited by state law. She added that the police chief and the Board of Police Commissioners alone have the authority to discipline police officers.
“Discipline is not on the table for CRB. I want to make sure that our conversations will be productive,” Holmes said. “That’s not on the table. I want to start with this point clear.”
Around three dozen residents spoke out against the proposal at the public hearing. Barbara Fair, a longtime local activist, said her daughter was assaulted by an NHPD officer late last year, and she does not trust the NHPD. Many other residents recounted similar experiences of police brutality, such as resident Abel Sanchez, who won damages from the police department in 2011. He added that he was shocked and disappointed that, instead of being punished, the officer received a promotion after the incident. On this basis, he claimed that the NHPD could not be trusted to monitor cases of brutality involving its own officers.
Emma Jones, the mother of Malik Jones, who was shot and killed by NHPD officers on April 14, 1997, also spoke at the meeting. She confronted the alders present for delaying the creation of a review board and failing to create a proposal with the power necessary to hold officers accountable.
“How many people have to be brutalized, murdered before this body is moved to do the right thing?” she asked.
Craig Miller and Shafiq Abdussabur, the president and treasurer, respectively, of the NHPD’s police union pointed out at the meeting that a host of logistical issues needed to be addressed if the city decides to make a review board independent of the police department. For example, Abdussabur questioned how the CRB would be financed and how its members would fit into City Hall’s daily functioning.
Miller added that the creation of an independent board might go against his union’s contract, which allows for termination in the event that the department finds an officer guilty of serious misconduct. His remarks prompted a member of the audience to exclaim: “Contracts can be changed.”
In an interview with the News, NHPD’s Acting Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 said he has been an advocate of the CRB and added that he thinks of it as a great resource that motivates transparency and accountability within the department.
“I have no problem with the Civilian Review Board,” Anthony said. “In many ways, I believe the CRB in conjunction with the Board of Police Commissioners, which does have subpoena power, really brings a lot to the table, making sure that the department is as transparent as possible and that the community knows what is being done.”
The citywide vote allowing for the creation of a review board occurred in 2013.