Meriden panel reviewing police use of force oversight loses its leader

Meriden panel reviewing police use of force oversight loses its leader

MERIDEN — The chairwoman of the City Council committee formed in response to the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests last summer has resigned from that board a month after taking the job, she said Wednesday.

City Councilor Nicole Tomassetti’s full-time job as a lobbyist at a government relations firm in Hartford absorbs too much time for her to also fulfill the ambitious goals of the Use of Force Review Committee, she said.

“I was hoping that I could handle both, but as soon as the (state legislative) session started, it quickly became evident that I wasn’t going to be able to give the board the time it needed,” Tomassetti said. “I would just caution that it needs someone who has the time to really give to it. I think it will be a challenging position to fill.”

During its meeting Tuesday night, the council appointed Councilor Michael Cardona, who also serves as deputy mayor, to replace her. Tomassetti was appointed chair of the Use of Force Review Committee during its first meeting on Dec. 16.

City leaders formed the board last summer in response to the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, during his arrest by a Minnesota police officer. Councilors condemned Floyd’s treatment and sought to reassure the city that such brutality wouldn’t happen in Meriden. 

The committee’s goal is to study whether Meriden needs another committee — one charged with reviewing police use of force — and to suggest how the latter panel might work. 

But if its members determine that such a police review board is feasible, it could lead to a select number of residents having indirect but close oversight of police conduct, something Meriden has never had and a rarity in Connecticut. 

Mayor Kevin Scarpati told the eight-member committee during its first meeting that it could determine that a civilian police use of force review committee is unnecessary. Of the 11 use of force complaints filed against city cops since 2018, only one complaint, in 2019, was found to be justified. The rest were dropped or deemed unjustified. 

That’s one justified complaint against a city police department that annually handles about 2,100 arrests, 23,000 calls for service and 44,400 self-initiated tasks, including motor vehicle stops, building checks and special patrols, according to a report police wrote for the council.

Cardona said he regretted but understood Tomassetti’s decision because he agrees generally with her that police could be more transparent. Regular reviews of police conduct and department data by a use of force committee will improve police standing with the public and help curb police excesses, he said.

“It was unfortunate because I was really happy she got the position, but obviously work obligations have to come first,” said Cardona, a retired state parole officer who was elected to the council in 2015 and became the council’s Public Safety Committee chairman in 2017.

The chairperson of the committee will have a lot of work to do, said Tomassetti, who works for Capitol Strategies Group, which helps businesses and other organizations, such as unions, work with the Legislature.

Besides helping decide whether a use of force committee is necessary and shaping it to Meriden’s needs and state law, the chairperson will have to keep many city groups in the loop as the committee’s work progresses, including the police union and city and neighborhood leaders, she said.

“It’s a lot of different meetings with different stakeholders,” Tomassetti said. “Even setting basic meetings (and getting people together) will be difficult.”

nsambides@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @JrSambides

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