After a contentious nomination process, the Board of Alders unanimously approved local journalist and filmmaker Steve Hamm to the Civilian Review Board on Monday.
In August, the board’s Aldermanic Affairs committee first reviewed Hamm’s nomination to the Civilian Review Board — created to ensure police accountability — and dealt him a unanimous rejection. Hamm faced strong opposition from community activists who expressed concerns about what they claimed was a failure to acknowledge structural racism. Three months later, on Monday, the full board changed course, with several alders offering Hamm their emphatic support and none speaking against Mayor Toni Harp’s nominee. In an interview with the News, Hamm expressed his gratitude for having been offered a second chance and his excitement to represent his police district on the newly formed review board.
“I look forward to serving our community,” Hamm told the News after Monday’s vote. “I really am committed to conversation rather than confrontation.”
The Civilian Review Board, or CRB, is over two decades in the making. New Haven activist Emma Jones spearheaded the effort in 1997 after an East Haven police officer fatally shot her then-21-year-old son Malik in New Haven. In January, after months of protests, the Board of Alders passed the current version of the Civilian Review Board ordinance, which requires the mayor to appoint 10 board members — one from each of the 10 police districts in New Haven — in addition to at least three other review board members: one from the Board of Alders and at least two from the community at large. Police officers and elected officials, other than the alder appointed by the president of the Board of Alders, are barred from serving on the body. All members must be confirmed by a Board of Alders majority vote.
In August, Harp nominated 11 people to the CRB, six of whom earned approval without any objections. The alders chose to withdraw the remaining five nominees for a variety of reasons — four with a unanimous vote and one with just one vote of support.
The Board of Alders handed one of these unanimous rejections to Hamm, who faced strong criticism from community activists at his original hearing in July. Community organizer Kerry Ellington — a leader of CRB Advocates and People Against Police Brutality — criticized Hamm for failing to acknowledge “structural racism.”
In an opinion piece published in the New Haven Independent shortly after his initial hearing and rejection, Hamm acknowledged that he did not use the terminology but maintained that he addressed racial biases in policing when speaking before the alders. He further expressed his commitment to being a voice for “facts and fairness” in order to prevent officers from being held liable for others’ racism or mistreatment.
“My takeaway from this experience is that the members of the [People Against] Police Brutality group want people on the board who are prejudiced against the police and determined to punish them – no matter the facts of a particular case,” Hamm wrote.
On Monday, a slew of alders endorsed Hamm’s commitment to finding the facts. Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth ’90 LAW ’94 said that many of her constituents contacted her after the August vote to express their support for Hamm. She noted that Hamm, in addition to filming a documentary about community policing last year, actively encouraged community conversation on the topic — a spirit, she said, that would be invaluable on the review board.
“[Hamm] deeply values fact-finding and he views this as the key to determining the truth about a situation and leading to a just outcome,” Roth said on Monday. “His commitment to fact-finding and truth makes him an excellent journalist and, I believe, would make him a valuable CRB member.”
Ward 21 Alder Steve Winter ’11 echoed Roth, saying that his constituents contacted him as well and that Hamm has demonstrated his commitment to “impartially judging individual cases and proposing policy to address systemic failures.” He also underscored the need for ideological diversity on the review board in order to secure public confidence.
Three other alders voiced their support for Hamm, who did not face any opposition on Monday.
The Board of Alders passed the resolution establishing the Civilian Review Board on Jan. 7.
Mackenzie Hawkins | firstname.lastname@example.org