Open letter to the Board of Alders

Our open letter to the New Haven Board of Alders, as it ran in the New Haven Independent on April 3, 2017. Featured as well was an overview of the recommendations given in our draft ordinance.

To the New Haven Board of Alders,

The community has demanded an effective Civilian Review Board for the past two decades. Your recent proposal to revive the Board falls fundamentally short, and will not provide the community with a real tool to hold the police accountable. We respectfully request that the Board of Alders reimagine its proposal, incorporate essential elements from the M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson proposal and open the process to allow for expansive community involvement.

Twenty years ago, 21-year-old New Haven resident Malik Jones was brutally gunned down by East Haven Officer Robert Flodquist. Since then, Emma Jones, the M.A.L.I.K. Organization, and the New Haven community have organized tirelessly to hold police officers to their oaths to “protect and serve.”

In 2000, New Haven residents voted overwhelmingly in support of the M.A.L.I.K.-Dawson All-Civilian Review Board, an independent review board with investigatory and subpoena power. An illegal executive order by Mayor DeStefano hamstrung the board, leaving it only with the power to rubber stamp police Internal Affairs investigations. We were not satisfied then and we are not satisfied now.

In 2013, the city voted for a revised charter including a mandate for an empowered and independent Civilian Review Board. Our basic demand is that Alders create a Civilian Review Board worthy of our charter—one that conducts investigations “fairly and independently, and in such a manner that the public has confidence.” The current Board of Alders proposal falls short of this mandate.

We have seen many instances where police officers unnecessarily harmed or killed residents, violated their constitutional rights, and treated them in ways that assaulted their dignity. We know too many victims of police violence. The board established in 2000 by Mayor DeStefano’s illegal executive order was not an effective method of holding police accountable. This recent Board of Alders proposal makes no fundamental changes to that model. No reasonable person should expect a board so similar to be any more effective.

We demand an open, transparent, and public process. More than two years ago, at a public hearing on this issue, Legislative Committee Chairperson Jessica Holmes said, “As we begin to develop the language for the ordinance, there are many partners who we will need to work with…I envision there being a publicly-noticed meeting, even prior to writing the document, before creating the formal language….” The Board of Alders has not lived up to Alder Holmes’ statement. We want public-facing meetings to decide how police will be overseen in our communities.

We demand that the Board of Alders commit, by ordinance, to exercise its power to compel testimony on behalf of the Civilian Review Board. The City Charter makes clear that the Board of Alders has the “power to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses… by the issue of subpoenas and the administration of oaths in the manner and according to the rules governing the same in courts of justice,” and remove from office or employment any city employee who fails to comply. The Board of Alders must use this power on behalf of the Review Board to subpoena those who refuse to testify and sanction those who refuse to comply. Further, the police department must be ordered to share all requested information and require its employees to testify to the Review Board.

We demand that the Civilian Review Board conduct its own investigations. The well-documented “Blue Wall of Silence”—collaborated and coordinated police cover-ups—makes it impossible for the police to police themselves. There is no world in which an Internal Affairs investigation of police misconduct is “impartial” or “independent” as required by the charter. The Civilian Review Board must be empowered to conduct its own investigations in order to be in compliance with the Charter.

We demand that the Civilian Review Board be truly independent and free from possible conflicts of interest. The current proposal houses the Civilian Review Board within the Office of Corporation Counsel—the same office that is charged with protecting the City of New Haven from legal liability. An independent Civilian Review Board will expose police misconduct, which is a liability to the city. This conflict is plain and unavoidable. Civilian Review Board staff must report only to the Board, and the Board must be allowed to retain its own lawyers.

Major changes are needed to ensure that this Board can accomplish its stated goals and satisfy the City Charter. We urge the Board of Alders to open the drafting process to the New Haven community and make the necessary changes. In addition to this letter, we offer a skeletal outline of what we consider to be the essential elements of an effective Civilian Review Board. These recommendations fit squarely within the language of the Charter, and, unlike the Board of Alders’ most recent proposal, would lay the foundation for an empowered board that would be in compliance with the Charter mandate. We ask that these recommendations be incorporated into a city ordinance establishing a Civilian Review Board in New Haven. This Board should act as a pilot program for a Statewide Civilian Review Board. We ask that the City establish a local pilot board for a time period of three years so that we have time to assess its effectiveness, and work with the State Legislature to establish an independent, statewide board with its own enforceable subpoena power.

Signed,
People Against Police Brutality
The M.A.L.I.K. Organization
CTCORE – Organize Now!
Black Lives Matter New Haven
SURJ (Showing up for Racial Justice) New Haven
New Haven Educators Collective
Yale Black Law Students Association Executive Board
Yale Law School National Lawyers Guild
Yale Law Outlaws

Posted by camille

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