Following a public hearing on the Board of Alder’s plan to create a civilian review board last Wednesday, members of the Elm City community have presented several alternative proposals, all of which aim to give more power to the CRB.
Last week’s public hearing introduced the first draft of an ordinance that plans to reinstate a civilian-staffed board to monitor and review police misconduct in New Haven. Jointly hosted by the BOA’s Legislation and Public Safety committees, the hearing did not end with a vote, indicating that the joint committee will take further public input to improve the current ordinance, according to Ward 22 Alder and Vice-Chair of the Legislation Committee Jeanette Morrison.
The city has had a version of the CRB in the last decade, but it was considered ineffective because it had neither subpoena power — the ability to order New Haven Police Department officers who received misconduct complaints to testify — nor the capacity to discipline any officer that the CRB found liable. Ward 9 Alder and Legislation Committee Chair Jessica Holmes warned the public unambiguously at the beginning of last week’s hearing that granting subpoena or discipline power to the CRB is illegal under state law.
Pleased with the insights that the public hearing yielded, Morrison said the joint committee will take these suggestions into consideration and weigh the legal options before returning feedback to the community.
“We can’t do anything that is illegal,” Morrison said. “So that’s where we are now as all that information is being reviewed. We haven’t come up with a specific date as of this second, but we would want to meet sooner rather than later.”
Before the hearing even took place, however, two alternative plans circulated among members of the BOA and the community. Both wish to strengthen the CRB and grant it the ability to compel NHPD officers to testify before the board without having to secure subpoena power.
Led by local activists such as Greg Grinberg, Catherine John and John Lugo, one proposal seeks to give executive control to the CRB, which would empower it to hire and fire NHPD personnel and issue general orders, among other options. Grinberg, admitting that he does not understand the legal issues with granting CRB subpoena power, said his proposal circumvents this deadlock by combining the CRB with the Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian committee that meets in NHPD Headquarters and already has the power to subpoena NHPD officers.
Grinberg said his group’s draft ordinance calls for a community executive and review board, which effectively merges the CRB with the BPC, a combination that is not prohibited under state statutes and actionable by the city itself. According to Grinberg, the BPC as it currently stands only has six members, all of whom are civilians appointed by the mayor. He added that the board’s size and undemocratic selection process cannot accurately reflect the diverse New Haven community.
“Our goal isn’t really to punish police officers when they make mistakes,” Grinberg said. “Our goal is to figure out what happened and establish better policies and issue better general orders that make it less likely for those mistakes to happen.”
Gerald Antunes, Ward 12 alder and Public Safety Committee chair, said he is uncertain whether the community executive and review board is a feasible method and is waiting on legal advice from the corporation counsel’s office. He added that he appreciated several suggestions that were put forth in last week’s hearing. For instance, Antunes said he personally agrees that, when the CRB and the NHPD’s internal affairs unit reach conflicting conclusions, the case should be brought before the BPC for a final verdict.
Antunes said this clause, which is not included in the BOA’s draft ordinance, would make for a reasonable modification.
The M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson Proposal is another ordinance drafted up by community members that would allow the CRB to independently investigate police misconduct cases by combining the CRB with the BOA, an entity that also has subpoena power. Signed by nine local organizations, the M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson Proposal would give the CRB total independence from city government. The CRB would be housed inside the city’s corporation counsel’s office in the BOA’s ordinance, a conflict of interest in the eyes of the signatories to the M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson Proposal. Antunes said relocating the CRB office to an outside venue is an opinion that he personally welcomes, though the joint committee did not have the chance to speak at length about the testimonies it received.
“[Creating a civilian review board] is a major project that takes time, and you need to get all the members together to decide the pros and cons of each item,” Antunes said. “We certainly want this to go as quickly as possible but also have it be something that the public wants.”
The M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson Proposal is signed by People Against Police Brutality, the M.A.L.I.K. Organization, CTCORE–Organize Now!, Black Lives Matter New Haven, Showing up for Racial Justice New Haven, New Haven Educators’ Collective, the Yale Black Law Students Association’s Executive Board, Yale Law School National Lawyers Guild and Yale Law OutLaws.
Contact Amy Cheng at firstname.lastname@example.org .