MERIDEN — The City Council, after a four-hour meeting Monday night during which members heard more than two hours of public comment from in-person speakers and from those who had submitted online written testimony, voted 8 to 4 to establish a Civilian Review Board to review police use-of-force incidents.
Even with the council’s vote Monday night, the review board’s establishment is not a done deal. Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who has been consistent in his opposition to the board, has indicated he intends to veto the council’s vote.
Should that occur, the council would need to vote again on the proposal — needing a two-thirds majority to override a mayoral veto.
As of Tuesday, that veto hadn’t been issued. Scarpati has until Monday, Nov. 22, to issue it.
Scarpati told the Record-Journal Tuesday he has a few items to consider.
“However, I am very much opposed to the creation of a Civilian Review Board and I hope the City Council understands the need to revisit this, or consider an alternative,” Scarpati said.
One alternative: a proposal to bring such matters to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, or the council as a whole, in executive session. It was revealed during Monday night’s discussion that Police Chief Roberto Rosado had offered that proposal as a compromise during a closed-door council leadership meeting last month. The council has not acted on that compromise.
According to the Council’s adopted resolution, the Civilian Review Board would consist of nine appointed members — four representing each voting district and five at-large appointees. At-large members would be selected from the following fields: lawyers, retired criminal justice professionals, education professionals, mental health and medical professionals, clergy, local business professionals, a justice-impact person, the leader or board member of a non-profit organization or retired Meriden police officer.
All appointees would be subjected to criminal background checks.
The newly adopted board’s scope of authority includes reviewing completed internal investigations into use-of-force incidents “as to the thoroughness, completeness, accuracy, and objectivity of the investigation and prepare a written summary of its findings and reasons for its recommendation,” according to the ordinance’s language. That summary subsequently would be forwarded to the council’s public safety committee, city manager and to the chief of police.
The language states such reviews would take place within 60 days of a completed police department internal affairs investigation. The board could either vote to concur or not concur with such investigations.
“The failure of the Civilian Review Board to act thereon shall be considered as a recommendation to concur,” the language states. The board’s recommendations would be advisory only. The board, if fully implemented, would have the authority to make recommendations to the City Council regarding its own functions and bylaws and to make policy recommendations to the police chief.
Councilors expressed differing opinions on the proposal and some of them spoke passionately about it, but otherwise maintained civility during discussion of the proposal. The same could not be said for some members of the public, who gathered in the auditorium of Lincoln Middle School and at some points shouted and disrupted a few councilors as they spoke.
The disruptions prompted Scarpati to call for decorum from those audience members.
Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, sought to explain the board’s scope of authority to curtail what he described as “misinformation that has come about” in public discourse regarding the proposal.
“This resolution creates a Civilian Review Board in the city of Meriden. It does not defund, or abolish the police department or lead to that outcome,” Cardonia said, describing the requirements to become members of that board as “more stringent” than requirements to sit on the public safety committee.
Cardona described the board’s scope of authority as limited to reviewing use-of-force complaints already ruled on by the police chief. He noted civilian police commissions in other communities have significantly greater authority than the review board, if fully established, would have.
Councilor Nicole Tomassetti said she too supported the resolution. After audience members disrupted her, thus prompting Scarpati’s call for decorum, Tomassetti would go on to state she does not believe that supporting the board’s creation has “anything to do with the fact our police department is doing anything wrong.”
Tomassetti said if anything, the department has a “stellar” record and Rosado, as its head, is highly regarded.
“Police officers in Meriden and around this country have a special job,” she said. “... No other public servant has the authority police do. That’s why oversight by the public is necessary.”
Republican Minority Leader Dan Brunet in his comments, described the compromise offered by police officials, saying he would prefer matters involving use-of-force be brought to the public safety committee rather than a review board.
“I think we deserve simply common sense,” Brunet said “... There should have been a second meeting. There was a compromise on the table.”
Democratic Majority Leader Sonya Jelks described the board as not being about “hurting police officers or about trying to take away the authority of the police chief.”
Jelks described the issue as one that has been difficult to navigate both personally and professionally. She expressed dismay over the fact that previously open community relationships have now closed over the issue, which she described as polarizing.
To the police personnel in attendance Monday night, Jelks said she supports them. “We have never turned away opportunities to police,” she said.
Jelks, who spoke over disruptions from the audience, said she would ask for her council colleagues not to leave completely polarized.
She instead asked “we leave today so that your kids, my kids, all feel the same when they have interactions with police. So all feel they have the same protections… so we all have the same exact experiences.”
During public comment a few hours earlier, Meriden Police Det. Sgt. John Wagner, the union’s president, urged the council not to move forward with the review board.
“Never in the history of American policing has there ever been more oversight on the police officers in the state of Connecticut than we currently have now,” Wagner said, adding later in his remarks that he doesn’t believe the board sets up a process that would “foster a better relationship between police and the community.”