Adrian Kulesza, Senior Photographer

Established in 2019, the New Haven Civilian Review Board is tasked with investigating complaints against Yale and New Haven police officers. But the board is facing significant logistical challenges in enforcing police accountability across the city, according to interviews conducted by the News. 

The board currently faces five vacancies. Composed of up to fifteen New Haven residents, the CRB is missing one third of possible members — marking a string of vacancies and a prominent lack of administrative power.

“I would suggest that minimal effort has been put in place for the community to understand what the Civilian Review Board is doing or reviewing,” said Dr. Don McAulay, Assistant Professor of Management at Quinnipiac University and a frequent attendee of CRB meetings. “More importantly, there needs to be more public announcements or acknowledgments, making it difficult for resident civilians to get involved, considering that there seem to be quite a few position vacancies.”

The 2020 Police Accountability Act, a Connecticut law that strengthened police oversight across the state, empowered the board to expand their presence within the community. The Board’s lackluster participation, however, has softened its impact and scope across New Haven.

The New Haven ordinance provides the CRB with an investigator equipped to dive into problematic or complex cases. Four years on, the board has not hired an investigator for any cases before them, according to Beth Merkin, Attorney for the CRB.

“If we want to look more carefully at the work internal affairs is doing and if we have an independent trained investigator, we can develop more evidence and information that can be used to develop a complaint,” Merkin told the News.

Merkin previously served as the Interim Inspector General for the Hartford Civilian Review Board. The Hartford model features simultaneous investigations of alleged police misconduct, one conducted by Hartford Police Internal Affairs  and another overseen by the CRB. If these investigations render different judgments, an arbitrator settles the disagreement. 

In Hartford, the Inspector General holds both parties accountable for a speedy and thorough review process, ensuring a smooth complaint remediation operation.

New Haven, however, features a sequential review system. This process possesses no binding power — the CRB’s decisions are merely heeded as recommendations for New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson. 

“He is supposed to wait to take disciplinary action before he hears from us and he is supposed to review and consider any recommendations or findings that we provide that may be different than those reached by IA,” Merkin said. 

Jacobson and a NHPD spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

In situations where the New Haven Civilian Review Board does not agree with Internal Affairs’ conclusions, the CRB may form a subcommittee and generate alternate conclusions. Jacobson must review these recommendations, yet he is not obligated to enforce them through penalties against police officers.

“Civilian Review Boards should have the power, authority, and support of the NHPD to accomplish the goals that they have set forth. Without power, authority, and support, it is just a meeting that audits with opinions and delivers suggestions without weight,”  McAulay wrote to the News.

Merkin told the News that the New Haven Civilian Review Board plans on proposing administrative modifications before the Board of Alders. On May 7, they will discuss different proposals that can strengthen the CRB’s role within community oversight.

In the CRB’s March 25 meeting, members announced intentions to promote accessibility within the complaint filing process. They plan to accept complaints filed in Spanish, through drop boxes and over the phone.

Dennis Serfilippi, a former candidate for Ward 25 Alder, attended the March 25 meeting.

“The police complaint process is professional and thoughtful. One of my thoughts is this — you’re gonna continue to have problems in any department, what the city needs is an outside operational audit to make sure the police department is using the best technology and standards at all times,” Serfilippi said.

The next New Haven Civilian Review Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 22 at 6 p.m.