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Strong New London police review report shows a path forward

There is much to digest in the recently released New London Public Safety Review Committee report. Most encouraging is its call for the City Council to move expeditiously in creating a Civilian Police Review Board and Mayor Michael Passero’s quick endorsement of that idea.

Most alarming are the concerns raised by the review committee about the website maintained by New London Police Union Local 724. It points to the union leadership’s habit, on the website, of sharing the names and photos of its critics in a manner, and with commentary, “that has been experienced as threatening in nature.”

“We find this behavior completely unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest manner,” states the committee’s report to Mayor Passero.

The mayor appointed the 12-member committee last summer after the killing of George Floyd by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd’s torturous death, recorded for the world to see, sparked a global social movement calling for the nation to address a history of Black citizens receiving unequal treatment — both more likely to be questioned by police and more likely to have those interactions end badly and, far too often, fatally.

Ad hoc committees formed in response to identified problems or crises have a checkered record. Too often reports are produced that provide plenty of options but no strong direction. In other cases, the reports and recommendations are solid, but the political will to act on them is lacking.

The report produced by the New London Public Safety Policy Review Committee offers the mayor a set of five goals: prevent police misconduct and strengthen accountability; improve recruitment to diversify the ranks of city police; enhance training; strengthen community relations; and increase the role of human services to better address the root causes of some misconduct and conflict. It then provides a series of steps to pursue those goals.

Not every recommendation can or should be adopted — that is true for every report — but the mayor, council and police chief would do well to use this document as a blueprint for improving community policing in this racially diverse community.

Police enforcement is a difficult job, no question. Society needs police to maintain order. The vast majority of officers are focused on their oath to protect and serve. Some will face split-second, life or death decisions that they know will be placed under a microscope.

But police should support efforts to root out bad actors in their ranks, to improve training that can help an officer recognize biases of which they might not have been aware, and to reduce the chances an encounter will end tragically.

We urge the New London police rank and file to bring an open mind to the committee’s recommendations. While differences of opinion are to be expected, and the union should advocate for its members, knee-jerk resistance would not be productive.

Establishing a Civilian Police Review Board, authorized by the recently passed Police Accountability Act, is a critical step. This editorial board has long advocated for independent civilian review of police policies and allegations of police misconduct. It is vital to create public confidence that complaints will be fairly evaluated and that bad behavior won’t be covered up.

A review board would have the authority to subpoena witnesses and examine records, share its findings with the public and issue reports and recommendations to the police chief.

New London has had a long-standing Police Community Relations Committee. But, while tasked with reviewing the police handling of civilian complaints, it has “little to no actual authority to overturn investigative decisions.”

Creating a review board with some teeth will allow the existing committee to turn its full attention to the important job of improving policy-community relations, notes the new report. That makes sense.

On the sometimes nastiness of the website maintained by the union, aimed toward its critics, we share the committee’s grave concerns. The police, like all of us, have a right to free speech, but they also have an obligation to act with “professionalism, decency, and respect” the report points out.

The committee’s language, the strongest in the report, shows that it considers this a big deal.

“It will be impossible for police to develop a trusting relationship with the community if this kind of behavior continues and becomes endemic to police culture in New London,” states the report.

In other words, the committee is telling Mayor Passero, the City Council, and Chief Peter Reichard, “you can’t ignore this.”

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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