Nearly 100 community members packed into a Yale Law School classroom on Thursday night to hear about the proposal for an all-civilian review board in New Haven.
The event — hosted by People Against Police Brutality, Justice for Jayson and CT CORE — included a panel that discussed the specifics behind one proposal for such a board. Emma Jones, a New Havener who has campaigned for an all-civilian review board over the last two decades, and other advocates explained their proposal for a new ordinance that would establish a review board.
“Police brutality does happen here, and we have the same problems that police departments all over the country have, which is that there is no accountability measures that are real,” Chris Desir LAW ’18 said.
Board of Police Commissioners chairman and then-Alder Anthony Dawson first proposed an ordinance in 1995 to create an all-civilian review board, but the Board of Alders never formally voted on the matter. In 2001, former Mayor John Destefano issued an executive order to create a review board but one that had no subpoena power or ability to conduct independent investigations of the police. In 2013, by the vote of an electorate, a civilian review board was added to the New Haven Charter, which now allows for an independent board with subpoena power and the capacity to investigate police misconduct.
Emma Jones, one of the authors of the proposal discussed on Thursday, was partly motivated to create a civilian review board after her son Malik Jones was shot dead by a police officer in New Haven in 1997. After her son’s death, Jones started the M.A.L.I.K. organization, which has pushed for an all-civilian review board in the Elm City ever since.
During the panel, Jones recounted the stories of citizens who had died because of police action and urged attendees to ensure that the city establishes an all-civilian review board, calling on attendees to lobby local lawmakers.
“I hope that every person here is going to take up the responsibility to make a change,” Jones said. “And I think a part of that change may come when we have an institution, a legitimate institution, that will begin to hold police officers accountable.”
Jones, Yale Law students and members of People Against Police Brutality developed an ordinance for an all-civilian review board in memory of Jones’ son and discussed its details at the meeting. The ordinance, updated this month, calls for a 13-member independent board, in which one member from each of the 10 communities with police substations and three at-large members are represented, who would serve two-year terms. Elected officials and police officers would be barred from serving on the board. Additionally, the proposed board would be supported by an administrative team, two investigators and 1.5 percent of the New Haven Police Department’s noncapital budget, which would amount to at least $600,000.
The proposed board would hold monthly public meetings at rotating locations in an effort to involve different communities. According to the current ordinance, the all-civilian review board should have the authority to examine civilian complaints of police misconduct, monitor internal affairs complaints, hear appeals from civilian complainants and develop policies and procedures for filing and processing civilian complaints. In addition, the ordinance states that the first board would operate as a three- to five-year pilot program.
For Wally Hilke LAW ’18, a semi-independent review board would be worse than no board at all. He said that a board without subpoena authority, with no power to acquire necessary documents or with members that may have conflicts of interest would merely create the illusion of independent accountability.
The panel opened the discussion to questions, comments and recommendations from the audience. Attendees said that the state should train the civilian review board to handle allegations of police brutality. They also asked how the new board could ensure accountability when the law is unclear on the question of excessive force.
One attendee, Ward 7 alder Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94, said the alders have had conversations about forming an internal review board but has not yet discussed a possible all-civilian review board.
“You need 16 votes,” Roth said. “I think there is going to need to be a lot of door knocking and conversations.”
She expressed her support for the all-civilian review board, saying that although people want to trust the police department, they need to know that there is a process to shed light on police officers who do wrong.
She added that although the police chief holds the final decision-making power, the all-civilian review board would produce a body of evidence that would put pressure on the police chief in difficult situations.
Emma Jones also mentioned a new online database, created by People Against Police Brutality, which documents police brutality incidents in Connecticut.
Camille Seaberry, a meeting attendee who helped develop the database, was glad to see so many people — especially new faces — at the event.
“I feel like there is momentum, as far as the current Board of Alders and the climate nationally,” Seaberry said. “We don’t have to make the case that police brutality is an issue. At this point, that’s established. Now the fight is how are we going to stop it and build accountability.”
The next all-civilian review board meeting will be held on Feb. 8.
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