MERIDEN — The first nine members of the Police Civilian Review Board could be confirmed by the City Council as soon as mid-June.
A three-person panel — Mayor Kevin Scarpati, Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona and City Councilor Bob Williams Jr. — interviewed 30 prospective candidates for the review board throughout the month of April into early May.
Scarpati said those candidates have been narrowed to a shortlist of 15 candidates who have submitted to criminal background checks conducted by the FBI.
Following a series of contentious debates, the council formally adopted the review board’s creation last November. The board’s purpose is to provide an independent review of the police department’s own internal affairs investigations of use-of-force complaints filed against any city police officer.
Those who had opposed the board’s creation included council conservatives, local law enforcement leaders and police union officials. The year-long effort to explore and create the review board became a hot-button issue on the campaign trail for citywide office during last November’s election.
The board’s scope of authority is advisory and limited to review of completed internal affairs investigations into use-of-force complaints as to those investigations’ “thoroughness, completeness, accuracy and objectivity,” according to the language of the resolution that established it. The board’s written reviews would be forwarded to the City Council’s public safety committee, to the city manager, and to the chief of police.
Scarpati, who had opposed creating the board, vetoed the measure following the City Council’s vote to adopt it. The council then narrowly voted to override that veto during a special meeting in late November. Makeup of the board
The board’s nine members will include a representative from each of the city’s four voting districts and five at-large members. According to the language of the ordinance that established the board, at-large members are to be selected based on the following criteria, most of which are based on occupation: lawyers, retired criminal justice professionals, education professionals, mental health and medical professionals, clergy members, local business professionals, a justice-impacted person, the leader or a board member of a nonprofit organization or a retired Meriden police officer who has been retired for no less than five years. The criminal background checks are required, per the ordinance.
Board members cannot have Class A or Class B felony convictions on their records. Those felony classifications include the most serious crimes under the state’s penal code. Class A felonies include murder, home invasion, arson and sexual assault of a minor. Class B felonies include first-degree manslaughter and sexual assault in the first degree.
The ordinance stipulates that candidates must not have been convicted of Class C or D offenses within five years of being appointed to the board. Candidates also must not be involved in a pending criminal matter.
Scarpati said much of the interviews were focused on making sure candidates would be committed to the review board process.
“It was to make sure they understood the purpose of the board, to make sure they could attend and commit to the training that would be part of being appointed to the board, and to make sure not only were they qualified candidates, but also they were committed to and understood the responsibility of being a board member,” Scarpati said.
Candidates were asked the same series of questions, which Scarpati said had been vetted by Police Chief Roberto Rosado, who provided input into those questions.
During the council’s deliberations, police leaders and other leaders who opposed the board’s creation, described it as unnecessary and as anti-police. Opponents claimed the city has seen relatively few use-of-force complaints, and even fewer of those complaints had been upheld.
Proponents meanwhile described the measure as one that upholds transparency and stated that establishing the board should not be seen as an attack on local law enforcement.
Meriden Police Sgt. Michael Boothroyd, a department spokesman, in an email to the Record-Journal deferred to the mayor for comment regarding the review board’s implementation.
Boothroyd wrote, “The PD cannot comment on the effectiveness or impact of something that is not even in place yet. Plus, this is not the department’s program and our stance has been pretty clear.” Collaborativeinterview process
Scarpati, along with Cardona and Williams, described the interview process and deliberations the three were involved with as collaborative.
“I don’t think we had very much disagreement,” Scarpati said. “They gave their thoughts on who they would like to see and why.”
Scarpati is politically unaffiliated but has run for mayor with the Democratic endorsement. Cardona is a Democrat who chairs the council’s public safety committee and supported formation of the review board. Williams is a We The People party member and council deputy minority leader who opposed creation of the board.
The three reviewed each candidates’ qualifications and backgrounds to determine whether those qualified them to sit on the review board. Then they identified the council areas where the candidates reside.
The cost of the background checks is about $18 for each of the 15 short-listed candidates.
“We want to make sure they weren’t coming in with any sort of bias,” Scarpati said.
“My view hasn’t changed. However, that’s the will of the council to proceed,” Scarpati said. “My job is to recommend the individuals for it — making sure they’re as diverse and qualified as they can be.”
In addition to training, Scarpati said the interview process included an explanation of the board’s other responsibilities, including its annual reports to the council’s Public Safety Committee.
The term for board members will be three years, but for the board’s initial implementation, three board members will have three-year terms, while three will serve two-year terms, and the final three will serve one-year terms. That will ensure future appointments are staggered, Scarpati explained.
Cardona said the interviews, which included a “diverse pool of candidates,” went well.
“There was much more interest in these positions than I had anticipated,” Cardona said.
Cardona, echoing previous public statements he had made during the council’s deliberations last year, described the scope of the board as “limited,” unlike police commissions, whose authority is more wide-ranging, which have been adopted by other municipalities.
Cardona declined to detail what specific questions were asked of candidates during the interviews.
“We were looking for well rounded individuals and individuals that are not carrying any particular agenda on this board,” Cardona said.
Among interviewees, their reasons for seeking to join the board varied. Some sought to be more involved in their communities, while others sought to specifically join the board. Commitment to training, board duties
Those who are ultimately appointed will be required to complete 40 hours worth of training prior to beginning their duties as board members. That training will be delivered by a combination of agencies, including the Meriden Police Department.
How frequently the board meets, once its members are sworn in, will be determined by the number of use-of-force complaints filed against police officers.
Williams had voted against the board’s establishment. He maintained his belief that the city doesn’t need a review board as the city’s police department does not have use-of-force issues.
“However it’s something that the council embraced,” Williams said, adding he would do his duty as a representative of the city to implement the measure.
As for the candidates who will ultimately make up the review board, Williams said, “You want to believe that they’re going to do a great job and certainly we’re going to try to pick the best candidates who are open-minded.”
Williams said the training involved with the board’s implementation is the other aspect.
“This is new to all of us,” he said. “I don’t think we have a script yet on the process: how to bring people up to speed on their responsibilities. I would say it’s a work in progress.”
Williams said overall the panel was open-minded with all of the candidates.
“I think at the end of the day, whatever that field of candidates happens to be, we put our heads together to make sure it’s a solid representation — from all areas of Meriden.”
Reporter Michael Gagne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.