On Monday night, the much-anticipated Civilian Review Board held its first-ever public meeting over Zoom.
The 15-member board, which is meant to offer civilian supervision of the city’s law enforcement agencies, has been in the works for over two decades. After years of grassroots organizing, New Haven voters passed a referendum in 2013 that amended the New Haven City Charter and mandated that the city establish a CRB.
But years of disagreement between city officials and community members over the board’s powers delayed its implementation. In January 2019, the Board of Alders unanimously passed legislation to officially establish the board and grant it the power to subpoena witnesses and records. A lengthy appointment process further delayed the board’s first meeting for more than a year. Monday’s meeting marked the first of many steps for the still-developing board.
“[My vision] is not just to be reactive, but proactive and look at policies that the police are enacting,” Dwight neighborhood CRB member Richard Crouse GRD ’21 told the News as he reflected on the board’s responsibilities. “What is on the books currently, and how can we improve those to be more equitable and just?”
Before venturing into policy discussions, members of the board used Monday’s meeting to settle the fundamental logistics of the group. Members agreed on a set time and schedule for meetings and orientation dates for its members.
The Board will hold its next meeting on Monday, Jan. 25, when it will approve its bylaws and elect a president, vice president and secretary.
Public calls for a CRB first arose in the Elm City in November 1995. That year, Ward 3 Alder Anthony Dawson submitted a proposal to the Board of Alders to establish an all-civilian body that could enforce disciplinary action on police officers who committed acts of police brutality. Demands for such a group intensified in 1997 after an East Haven police officer, Robert Flodquist, shot and killed unarmed New Haven resident Malik Jones near his house in New Haven. Community activists joined Jones’ mother, Emma Jones, in advocating for the creation of the board.
Since then, community organizations like Black Lives Matter New Haven, People Against Police Brutality and Unidad Latina en Acción have organized protests and demanded community representation on a CRB.
Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22 attended hearings to confirm community members into the civilian review board as part of the Aldermanic Affairs Committee. He described the CRB — which includes a representative from each of the city’s 10 police districts — as “a good snapshot of the city and its members.”
“We were looking for people who had shown a dedication to justice and fairness and accountability in the city,” Sabin said. “The CRB is really meant to provide [an] independent mechanism for accountability so that if something happens … we have an independent body that can issue subpoenas and conduct independent investigations into that incident.”
It took more than half a decade for community activists and city officials to agree on the board’s powers. As recently as 2019, community activists continued to press the Board of Alders to explicitly grant the CRB subpoena powers. The word subpoena is not explicitly in the 2019 ordinance, yet alders have held that bylines within the city charter vest the board with this authority.
Following the vote, then-Mayor Toni Harp sent a series of nominations to be approved by the Board of Alders — many of which were contested. By November 2019, just seven members of the 15-member board were appointed. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic further delayed the confirmation of Mayor Justin Elicker’s final appointments. After months of nationwide protests over incidents of brutality, the process moved along. The final appointments for the board were made this August.
Though Monday night’s event is the first public meeting for the CRB, the board’s members first met on Sept. 17 for an introductory meeting over Zoom. Crouse said he was disappointed that it took the group until last week to schedule Monday’s meeting, but he explained that he looks forward to serving on the board.
“I was nominated and approved over a year ago, so I know that there were some positional and appointment processes that had to happen, but I think that obviously like anyone else on the board, we’re wanting to get to business as soon as possible,” he said.
Tyisha Walker-Myers, the president of the Board of Alders, was similarly enthusiastic.
“The Board of Alders committed to working with the CRB until it got up and running,” she said during the meeting. “I’m excited about the group getting together and moving forward, and we look forward to having this entity in the city.”
Crouse told the News he looks forward to the work the CRB will take on. He hopes the group will study data to understand the effectiveness of different policing policies throughout neighborhoods. With this data, Crouse said the board can look to improve anti-bias training and de-escalation measures.
The Civilian Review Board will meet on the last Monday of every month.
Correction, Dec. 2: An earlier version of this story said an NHPD officer shot and killed Malik Jones. In fact, it was an East Haven police officer.
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