Yale Daily News

On Monday night, New Haven’s Civilian Review Board discussed procedural and scheduling issues that have left backlogged cases from Internal Affairs without resolution.  

The 15-member board, which held its first meeting in November 2020 after the Board of Alders unanimously voted to establish the board in January 2019, holds the power to subpoena witnesses and records in reviewing IA closed and current cases. There are currently 26 backlogged cases that the board needs to discuss. Over a Zoom panel, board members laid out methods for tackling the backlog and how to discuss cases as a board when only a handful of members had the chance to review cases before meetings. The board also heard an Internal Affairs report for the month. Over the two-and-half hour meeting, members repeatedly noted they have struggled to balance adhering to the CRB bylaws and reviewing an “overwhelming” case load.   

“It just seems like a full time job almost in a lot of ways for me,” CRB Chair Samuel T. Ross-Lee said Monday night. “It gets a bit overwhelming and I think there are some logistical realities that were not thought out very well as this board was put together.” 

Lee said the board is largely still learning what it is supposed to be doing based on their trainings, ordinance and bylaw rules. 

Board member John Pescatore told other members to not “let perfect be the enemy of good.”

“It’s not good, but I think that we can get to good,” Pescatore said. “I just think it’s going to take some time because we’re still figuring this out.” 

Some members proposed ideas such as subcommittee group meetings or increased meeting frequencies to encourage members to fully review closed cases available online and open cases held at IA offices before meetings. 

Meanwhile, in the Google Drive of public information CRB documents, CRB Member Rick Crouse GRD ’21 has been compiling charts and tables to help CRB members and New Haveners visualize data in IA reports. 

Those IA data reports include numbers on complaint totals, complaint breakdowns by allegation and use of force breakdowns, as well as a few charts to represent those numbers. 

In an interview with the News, Crouse showed the existing charts from a May 2021 IA report.

“This is not so bad, but it’s difficult to see any trends across years,” Crouse said. He then scrolled through lists of data displayed above the charts in the IA reports. “This is really difficult to glean anything useful from.”

Crouse consolidated some of the data by category and created charts and graphs in a Google Sheet based on those compilations. He said he then met with Capt. David Zannelli and Lt. Manmeet Colon to verify the visualizations were an accurate representation of the IA data. 

“This is not groundbreaking. It’s just putting data that we get into some way that we can visualize it better,” Crouse said. “This tells you a very different story looking at this than having these numbers back to back.”

As more data comes in with each IA report, Crouse said he plans to add to the visualization page. “I want this to be a living document,” he said. “That’s why it’s in a Google Sheet and not a PDF because I want it to be able to be modified.”

Crouse said the CRB is supposed to release reports twice a year — in August and April — along with an annual report each December full of findings and suggestions. The August report was not released. Crouse said that ideally some of these data visualizations could be included in those reports. “The CRB is not supposed to just be reactive. It’s supposed to also look at what’s going on here and be proactive for posing new trainings, guidelines, and revamping of policy.”

Beyond looking at general trends from the charts to “inform what may need to be done in the future,” Crouse said he hopes that members of the public will benefit from the board on a more individual level as well. He said he would like for more public engagement with the CRB. 

“What’s more important is the public realizing that they have a chance to have their internal affairs complaint be reviewed by an independent board of civilians that is not housed within the police department,” Crouse said. 

At Monday’s meeting, Lt. Colon, who was transferred to head IA last month, delivered October’s IA report to the board. This month, IA closed three cases, with a total of 81 cases closing this year. Colon reported that so far this year there have been no officer-involved shootings and a decrease in pepper spray with 17 incidents this year compared to 23 by the same time last year.

Colon also reported a decrease in taser pointings with 16 this year compared to 39 last year and in taser deployments with 20 this year and 33 last year at this time,“which is a significant difference.” 

Colon said there have been zero baton uses this year with four last year, three K9 deployments with six last year, and 108 use of force forms filed for “hands” which includes takedowns and “hardhands” compared to 116 last year.

New Haven citizens voted to pass a referendum mandating the city to establish the CRB in 2013.

Sophie Sonnenfeld covers cops and courts. She is a first-year in Branford College majoring in anthropology.