In a large circle in the basement hearing room of New Haven’s Hall of Records on Monday, 50 community members discussed the next vital step to put into effect a civilian review board: the recommendation process for members to the board. With 73 days until membership nominations must be turned over to Mayor Toni Harp, members of the community management teams, known as CMTs — the units responsible for the process — were confused.
“We are trying to kind of figure this out. The ordinance is pretty vague about how people are nominated. It seems like there isn’t really set criteria, so we don’t really know. … We are not sure how [the CMTs] are supposed to be the ones to choose,” said Keren Clarizio, co-chair of the Westville-West Hills community management team, at the meeting.
On Jan. 7, the Board of Alders unanimously passed a resolution establishing a citywide civilian review board — a body dedicated to investigating and addressing police brutality and issues of accountability — after decades of demands from New Haven community members and months of contentious debate.
As per the ordinance, the civilian review board will consist of no more than 15 members — with at least one member of each of the 10 city police districts, one member of the Board of Alders and at least two at-large members. The ordinance specifies that the members — except the one alder — should be New Haven residents who are not elected officials or active sworn officers of any law enforcement entity. Starting Feb. 8, community management teams will have 90 days to recommend names to the mayor. According to the ordinance, the mayor will select nominees from the names recommended by each management team at a biennial meeting where it elects officers.
The Newhallville management team and downtown–Wooster Square management team collaborated with other management teams, advocates like members of People Against Police Brutality and other stakeholders to organize the Feb. 25 meeting. The goal of the meeting was to bring community management teams and community members together to collectively determine the best practices for the civilian review board recommendation process. Throughout the meeting, attendees intermittently broke into groups of two, four and six to discuss and ask questions.
However, at the start of the Feb. 25 community meeting, the consensus was clear: Community members, and even community management teams, did not know how to carry out — or even begin — their process of recommending members of the civilian review board.
Kim Harris of the Newhallville management team said that, before the community meeting, she was getting “inundated with calls. And, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just scratching my head.” She said that her district was “stuck.”
Two Fair Haven community management team representatives said at the meeting that they had just received information about the civilian review board in their last meeting. They said that their focus is to “get ahead of the game,” because they feel that their district is behind as they only began speaking about the civilian review board recently.
Meanwhile, another community management team chair said that he had already chosen a representative based on “how they conducted themselves at meetings.” He added that he is still going to advertise and keep an open mind about the position.
To quell some of this confusion, Ward 27 Alder Richard Furlow and Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter ’11 got up to clarify some points on the ordinance’s intent to the group. He said that the community management teams are “making this much more complicated than it has to be.”
“The CMT is really just the avenue or the conduit which the names are coming through and then being submitted to the mayor,” Furlow said, explaining that every name should be submitted to the mayor, and that the CMTs should only recommend names, not cut any names out. “Every single name must go to the mayor’s office because that is the most transparent way there is to make sure that everyone is considered. … The CMT is not nominating, the mayor is nominating.”
He said that the CMTs are the “physical entity” for the police district, and that without the CMTs as a conduit, people would have to submit names to the police department — “and we don’t want that,” Furlow said.
Winter agreed with Furlow, saying that there are “obvious problematic issues” with the community management teams narrowing down the submissions pool. He said that the CMT should have a “transparent” selection process, which would allow the New Haven residents to see the full pool of applicants regardless of neighborhood.
Furlow said that at the end of the day, the mayor’s nominations will go to Aldermanic Affairs Committee for further vetting and then to the whole Board of Alders for voting.
Though Furlow’s points brought clarity to many, they also raised more questions at the meeting: “How do we keep the same transparent values in the mayor’s office as in the public meetings?” “What is criteria for members?” How will Mayor Harp choose?” Some individuals questioned the necessity of the CMTs as an intermediary, asking why nominations could not be made directly to the mayor’s office.
In small groups, community members brought up further questions and drafted an invitation for people to apply to the civilian review board as well as an outreach plan to share it widely. Additionally, they brainstormed three questions that they would potentially ask candidates for the board.
Kerry Ellington of People Against Police Brutality said that people should consider the following criteria: “conflict resolution skills, awareness of police misconduct in New Haven neighborhoods, understanding of systemic injustice and implicit bias, availability and willingness to engage in training around these issues.”
Following these small group discussions, people shared their thoughts with the wider group, bringing up the importance of a job description — the time commitments and responsibilities of a board member, for example — and specifying criteria for a board member, such as past experience, community involvement and expertise.
Harris told the News that through the meeting, she gained a clearer picture of the process of submission. When she got calls from community members interested in applying for the civilian review board before, she would tell them “I really don’t know what the process is. I don’t know what the time commitment is. I’m not even sure on how things are going to get picked.”
She told the News that she is just happy to bring back information to her neighborhood about what the civilian review board job is going to entail.
“This isn’t just about us picking a name, but the people who really want to do this — can they make a commitment?” she asked. “Now I know that we are basically just filtering — not even filtering — but giving names to the mayor, and she is going to pick from there.”
The Hall of Records is located at 200 Orange St.
Sammy Westfall | firstname.lastname@example.org