MERIDEN — The City Council will soon take up the Use of Force Study Committee’s recommendation to form a police civilian review board tasked with providing an external review of use of force incidents.
The Use of Force Study Committee’s 34-page report that included the recommendation was inserted in the council’s Aug. 2 meeting packet and listed as a communication on that meeting’s agenda. The report included proposed language that would establish a civilian review board. However, that language had yet to be introduced to the council as a separate resolution for referral to one of its standing committees.
According to the City Charter, a proposed ordinance, such as one establishing a civilian review board, must first be referred to a standing committee, which is required to hold a public hearing on that proposal before the council as a whole can act upon it.
Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona, who chaired the Use of Force Committee, said his hope is that the matter would receive a committee referral at the council’s next regular meeting scheduled for Aug. 16.
Cardona said the proposal would “definitely” need to be referred to the council’s finance committee. It also may be reviewed by either the council’s personnel committee or its public safety committee.
Cardona did not provide a timeline for those committee-level reviews or when a hearing would occur. If the item is listed for referral on the next council agenda, it could be taken up at the committee level by late August.
He said the purpose of providing the report to the council in advance of those discussions was to provide fellow city councilors and members of the public insight into the Use of Force Study Committee’s deliberations.
“So councilors and the public can understand the process from the beginning,” Cardona said, describing the study committee’s report as “really extensive.”
The council voted to establish the committee more than a year ago, as one of numerous local and state measures to increase police accountability, following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
The proposed ordinance, spelled out in the Use of Force Study Committee report, outlines four purposes for establishing a local review board: to promote public confidence in the accountability of the city police department through independent review of all use of force complaints, to add the civilian perspective to those reviews, to provide those reviews in “a timely, fair and objective” manner, and “to promote positive interactions and maintain trust between the community and police.”
The civilian review board, if established, would consist of nine members. Four of those appointed members would represent each of the city’s separate voting districts. Five members would be appointed to “at-large” seats. The ordinance proposed in the report would vary those seats by different fields and professions: the legal profession, criminal justice, education, mental health, healthcare, clergy, local business owner, a person impacted by criminal justice, an administrator for a local non-profit organization, and a retired police officer in good standing.
The board would be tasked with reviewing police department internal affairs investigations into complaints related to police use of force. The board is required to provide a written annual report to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, summarizing its complaint reviews.
City Councilor Bob Williams, of the We The People Party, participated in the months-long Use of Force Committee discussions.
“If you look at the facts that were put before the committee, which was in depth, one thing was crystal clear: Meriden does not have these issues,” Williams said. By issues, Williams was referring to incidents alleging excessive use of force. He described the Meriden police department as one whose officers go about their duties with a high level of professionalism.
While individual committee members may disagree over whether civilian oversight of police is a necessary layer, Williams spoke highly of the study committee’s process.
“They did a fantastic job,” Williams said. “It was a real honor to be part of the process.”