Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

In a unanimous vote, the New Haven Board of Alders added a new face to the Board of Police Commissioners during their Monday night meeting: University of New Haven professor Michael Lawlor.  

The decision comes after Mayor Justin Elicker nominated Lawlor to serve on the board on Sept. 24. As a member of the board, Lawlor will have the opportunity to propose law enforcement reforms, evaluate the efficacy of existing police policy and make decisions on the employment status of officers. Ward 13 Alder Rosa Santana, who chairs the Aldermanic Affairs Committee, introduced Lawlor’s nomination to the board and urged its members to approve his appointment for a three-year term.

“Lawlor has extensive experience and will be an incredible asset to the Board of Commissioners,” Santana said at the meeting.

According to UNH’s website, Lawlor has served on the faculty since 1995. He is also a former co-chair of the state legislature’s judiciary committee. Elicker selected Lawlor due to his extensive background as a leader in police reforms. The Elm City mayor said that Lawlor seemed like a good fit to develop the city’s new crisis response team, which plans to send social services professionals, rather than police, to respond to non-emergency 911 calls.

Citing Lawlor’s experience as a former undersecretary for criminal justice and policy planning under Governor Dannel Malloy, Ward 12 Alder Gerald Antunes, chair of the Public Safety Committee — which has jurisdiction over police policy — spoke favorably about Lawlor’s appointment.

“I think the work that he’s done and his knowledge in the area will serve him well on the board,” Antunes said. “We need someone from the educational community to be a voice.”

Before Monday’s meeting, Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22 told the News that Lawlor stood out for his “demonstrated awareness” of the need for police reform, developed over “decades of advocacy.” The discussion of policing and race has remained omnipresent in City Hall since the killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans over the summer. Sabin said he believes Lawlor will help move these discussions along in New Haven.

“[Lawlor] is not somebody that just realized as the political winds were shifting that it was time to be on the reform side of this issue,” Sabin said. “He’s been an advocate for justice in our criminal justice system for many, many years.”

According to Sabin, Lawlor described a few key policies that he would work to implement once his tenure on the board began. Among these, Sabin said that Lawlor has proposed bringing the Yale Police Department under the jurisdiction of both the city’s Civilian Review Board and Board of Police Commissioners. The Civilian Review Board is a body designed to investigate and address issues of police brutality and accountability. While the creation of the board was approved last January by the Board of Alders, its actual implementation has stalled for months as the city struggles to decide which community members will sit on the board.

If the Civilian Review Board does come into full operation, its current set of powers would allow it to investigate the NHPD — but not the YPD.  The New Haven Board of Police Commissioners currently approves the appointment of new YPD officers, which is why the YPD and NHPD have the same legal jurisdiction to police the city of New Haven. The YPD does not, however, answer to any independent or city-affiliated review board on questions of police accountability.

“Even though Yale police officers get their powers from the city in the same way New Haven police officers do, they are not accountable to the public through these public institutions,” Sabin said. “I was glad that [Lawlor] said he would support changing that policy.”

Reflecting on Lawlor’s new appointment after the meeting, Sabin said he had renewed hope that Lawlor would be a vocal presence for many long-overdue reforms in city policing, reforms that many advocates in the city, including Lawlor himself, have been striving to implement for years.

“It’s a win for New Haven that [Lawlor] will serve on this board,” Sabin said. “He’s demonstrated a very deep knowledge of the issues facing the city with regards to policing, and he’s been a long-time advocate of reforms that our city residents are treated as the should be by police.”

The next Board of Alders meeting will take place on Thursday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.

Thomas Birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu