MERIDEN — As Use of Force Committee members explore the questions of whether the police department needs oversight in the form of a civilian review board, and if so, what are the roles and responsibilities of such a board, they are surveying the community to determine whether those who live and work in Meriden feel there is a need for such a board.
Meriden officials announced the online survey via the city’s Facebook page on May 21. Another link to it went live on the city’s website a week later. It will remain online for the next month.
A link to the survey, which is available in English and Spanish, can be found here: https://www.meridenct.gov/announcements/community-voice-survey-public-safety-and-law-enforcement/.
Most of the new survey’s 25 questions are multiple choice. The first question asks respondents to give their rating on “[t]o what extent does your law enforcement agency work together with community members to solve local problems?”
It also seeks respondents’ ratings on questions about whether individuals of different races and ethnicities are treated equally by Meriden police and whether the department is transparent about its interactions with members of the public.
Use of Force Committee members say the questions are intentionally broad and not limited to questions around use of force to encourage a large community response. In order for the survey results to be considered representative of a community with Meriden’s size, the survey would need to yield at least 500 responses, committee members learned from experts. So the committee has set a goal to gather at least 1,000 responses.
The City Council voted to form the Use of Force Committee, which is tasked with determining the need for a civilian review board, in 2020.
The committee’s formation came not long after Connecticut lawmakers passed the state’s own police accountability legislation, which includes measures regarding the investigation of allegations of police misconduct, imposes new restrictions on when police can use deadly force and requires officers to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force.
Both steps occurred in the aftermath of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a year ago.
In April, a jury found now former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona, who chairs the Use of Force Committee, described a goal to distribute the current survey through different community groups, social media platforms, and other means, to attract a representative response.
Cardona said the Use of Force Committee’s diverse membership steered what would become the survey’s questions.
“I didn’t hear any feedback that the questions were either steered in a direction, or negative. We’re just trying to get some feedback in regards to how people feel. I definitely did not want any of the questions to be leading,” Cardona said. ‘Unbiased data’
Sharlene Kerelejza, a Use of Force Committee member, remarked similarly. Kerelejza explained the survey and its questions are worded in a way intended to avoid assumptions about “what folks do and do not want.”
Instead, she said, it’s meant to “let folks tell us their story, what they’re looking for in terms of transparency, accountability and relationships” between local law enforcement and the community they serve.
“Any models we recommend we want to be data driven,” Kerelejza said. “The goal of this survey is to get the thoughts, feelings, opinions, and experiences, in the form of unbiased data.”
The committee derived the survey’s questions from separate existing surveys administered by the U.S. Department of Justice and by the Seattle, Washington Police Department.
Attempts on Friday to reach police officials and union leaders for comment were not successful.
CIty Councilor Bob Williams Jr. described the survey as a means to “get the temperature on what the public is feeling. I hope that we get a good response from the community holistically, in the inner city, the east side, west side and our downtown district as well. I would encourage people to take a minute. It’s important information,” he said.
Williams spoke in support of the police overall, saying he believes the department “has done a phenomenal job being transparent.”
Williams noted if there is one thing the committee has learned so far from representatives where civilian review boards are in place is that they are not going to happen “overnight.”