After a controversial hearing and communitywide derision, several New Haven alders defended their refusal to vote for an amendment providing subpoena power to the proposal for a civilian review board, citing the need for more discussion and information.
On Tuesday night, for the first time since April 2017, alders joined community members for a joint Public Safety and Legislation Committee hearing about the civilian review board — a body that would oversee New Haven police and investigate misconduct. The alders’ decision to vote down the amendment for subpoena power came after over two hours of community testimony at the hearing. Subpoena power would give the board the power to conduct independent investigations and the right to request witnesses and public data regarding police misconduct complaints.
Almost every speaker who testified brought up the importance of these powers, noting the “toothless” nature of a civilian review board without independent investigative power. Some community members said that they were reading part, or even their whole, testimony verbatim from one and a half years ago — arguing that nothing has changed. After the vote, attendees’ frustration was palpable as the crowd repeatedly shouted “Shame!” at the alders.
Of the thirteen alders on the joint committee who voted Tuesday, only two alders — Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth ’90 LAW ’94, who raised the amendment, and Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen — voted in favor of the amendment proposal for subpoena power.
The same two alders were the only ones who voted against passing the fully amended resolution onto the full board. While the proposed subpoena power amendment was rejected Tuesday night, there is still opportunity to raise any amendments with the full Board in their next two meetings before the final vote on the draft ordinance — which will come in December, according to Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison.
“I think there are just a few more questions that want to be asked that couldn’t be answered at that meeting — and need to be further looked into,” Ward 11 Alder Renee Haywood of the Public Safety Committee, who voted against the amendment, told the News on Wednesday.“I think once those questions are answered, then the subpoena power should move forward.”
Haywood said that she is looking forward to all of the sides coming together to find a “happy compromise.”
Morrison concurred, noting that the alders need more information and more time for discussion before passing an amendment granting subpoena power to the civilian review board.
Subpoena power was a top priority for the majority of community members present Tuesday. However, Morrison said that she knows that “the [state] law does not give civilian review boards subpoena power.” She noted that she wants a civilian review board in place — even without subpoena power — until the law allows it.
But in a memo written to the Board of Alders from New Haven’s Corporation Counsel John Rose Jr. in 2015, Rose wrote that the civilian review board mandated by the charter could have subpoena power. The Special Act of 1899 granted the city’s Board of Alders and their committees and commissions — including the civilian review board — the power to issue subpoenas.
At the hearing, when Morrison said that activists should “go to the state” and “organize” for subpoena power, attendees immediately called her out. “That’s a lie,” one person yelled. Another shouted, “Talk to a lawyer. That’s not true,” before the panel’s chair banged the gavel.
Morrison told the News that a lot of the time, people get upset because they feel the proposal “has to be perfect right then and there.” She said that this passed ordinance is something that they can just start off with — and that changes can be made when needed through future amendments.
“That’s the beauty of being a lawmaker,” she added.
During the hearing, Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand spoke out against the proposed amendment giving the civilian review board subpoena power. Marchand said he did not favor introducing it “at this time” and encouraged other alders to vote against it.
He added that everyone must take a “journey” together to “grapple with these difficult issues,” but he that he thought the addition of subpoena power should only come after a lot more discussion.
Marchand could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter ’11, who is not a member of the Legislative or Public Safety committees that held the hearing, told the News on Wednesday that city legislators must ensure that the civilian review board properly instills the public confidence required by the Elm City’s charter. He said that subpoena power is only one measure that will strengthen the proposal.
New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell also testified on Tuesday in support of a civilian review board, but one that is done “right.” He also indicated support for independent investigative power for the board.
Justin Ellicker, a former city Alder who gave testimony at Tuesday’s hearing, expressed concern toward the final vote in an interview with the News.
Ellicker said that New Haven residents support the proposal and hope to address systemic issues that exist around institutional racism, as well as social and economic inequities. The ability to conduct independent investigations will strengthen the public’s trust in the New Haven Police Department and government, according to Ellicker.
“We should be leaders in the nation on these issues,” Ellicker said. “Unfortunately we are squandering this opportunity.”
Griffin Gordon ’22, who testified during the hearing, told the News on Wednesday he noticed that among residents there was “almost unanimous” support of a stronger review board than what was proposed.
Gordon noted that alders are not listening to the residents of New Haven or the police. He said that despite so many people coming up to the alders to provide compelling arguments for the amendment, the alders just “ignored [them].”
“I’m not entirely sure what their motives could be — perhaps monetary, with some kind of shady stuff going on behind the scenes, or just lack of desire to actually represent their people,” said Gordon. “Everyone in the audience was together under the same ideals. But the alders chose not to listen.”
Directly after the hearing, Ward 5 Alder Dave Reyes Jr., who voted against the amendment, told the News that the alders are listening to the community, and will take the concerns of their constituents into future considerations.
Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19, who was present during the hearing but is not on either of the committees voting on the amendment, said that he had hoped to see the approval of a civilian review board with subpoena power on Tuesday. He also noted that he understands that the alders must “start somewhere.”
Morrison commended Ward 27 Alder Richard Furlow for adding a successfully passed amendment to the new board which mandates a review of the civilian review board after one year of operation.
The draft ordinance will be brought to the full board for a vote after two meeting sessions. The Board of Alders holds a full board meeting every other Monday.
Sammy Westfall | firstname.lastname@example.org