Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer
On Sept. 24, Mayor Justin Elicker announced his nomination of University of New Haven professor Michael Lawlor to serve on the Board of Police Commissioners.
Lawlor told the News that his position on the Board of Police Commissioners would encompass proposing police reform projects, managing project finances and evaluating the efficacy of existing police policies. According to the New Haven Code of Ordinances, Lawlor’s position would also include some authority over the employment of NHPD officers, including the appointment of auxiliary officers and termination of all officers. Lawlor’s nomination is contingent on approval from the Board of Alders.
“Implementing this extraordinary array of reforms that are being promulgated in state legislatures, the Board of Alders and hopefully next year Congress –– there’s gonna be a lot of changes coming down the pipe and to manage the process, it will be critically important,” said Lawlor.
Lawlor began his legal career as a prosecutor for the State’s Attorney Office in New Haven in 1986. From 1987 to 2011, Lawlor served in the Connecticut House of Representatives and subsequently joined Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration as his undersecretary for criminal justice policy. According to UNH’s website, Lawlor has been on faculty at the University since 1995.
This summer, New Haven residents have joined citizens across the United States in organized protests against police brutality. While protests were renewed in response to Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killing a Black man, George Floyd, local activists have long argued that the NHPD is culpable in acts of racism and violence towards communities of color.
Lawlor described his interpretation of defunding the police as reallocating resources to “take some of the burdens of the police.”
“Police officers have to respond to so many different types of things these days –– substance abuse, homelessness, victims’ rights, forensics science, how to operate a body camera,” said Lawlor. “A lot of these things were not even close to being part of the job 50 years ago. The time might have come to get more specialized.”
In an interview with the News, Elicker said he nominated Lawlor to the Board of Police Commissioners because of Lawlor’s background in progressive policing reforms.
Elicker specifically explained the role he thought that Lawlor could play in helping develop the Elm City’s new “Crisis Response Team.” This program is similar to a vision of policing Lawlor described to the News –– a future where trained mental health professionals could attend to non-emergency 911 calls that do not require a police officer to arrive on the scene.
New Haven is also in the process of creating a Civilian Review Board, which citizens have been advocating for since the 1990s. The Board is envisioned to be a body that investigates issues of police violence and provides a mechanism for police accountability. While the Board of Alders have approved the board’s establishment, its actual implementation has yet to occur as the city has struggled to elect representatives to the board.
“I think it’s vital at this time when we’re working to re-envision what policing and public safety means for our communities that we have [Lawlor’s] expertise on the police commission,” Elicker said.
However, not everyone is convinced Lawlor will have the capacity to freely carry out his vision.
“I don’t know how [he would implement reform],” longtime community activist Barbara Fair told the News. “I think that would have to come from the Board of Alders. They do all of the budgetary stuff, while the police commission is more for hiring and firing.”
Still, Elicker said that members of the police board have the ability to guide the police department in their decision making. He said he believes that Lawlor will serve in a role that could help rebuild the tense relationship between the NHPD and the community.
The Board of Alders will vote on whether to approve Lawlor’s nomination on Oct. 19.
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