Meriden council set to deliberate over police use-of-force panel tonight

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MERIDEN — The City Council will revisit a proposal to establish a civilian panel to review complaints related to police use-of-force incidents when it meets at Lincoln Middle School tonight.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. 

The proposed Civilian Review Board had been recommended by the Use of Force Review Committee, which issued a 37-page report  to the council last July. The council’s finance committee has also recommended, by a 3 to 2 vote, establishing a review board. 

The council had been set to vote on the proposal in September, but the matter was postponed indefinitely. Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks told the Record-Journal that postponement was intended to allow additional discussions with city officials and police department leadership. 

Jelks on Friday told the Record-Journal that a meeting, which included City Council leadership, Mayor Kevin Scarpati, city officials and police department leaders, was held last month, but was unproductive. 

Scarpati similarly stated no consensus was reached during the meeting. Police leadership expressed concerns over retaining and recruiting officers and the overall duties and responsibilities of the review board during the meeting. 

Jelks said she does not believe further discussions will be any more fruitful, due to what she described as “irreconcilable differences.”

Jelks said she is putting the item to a vote because “I am going to honor the people who worked on this,” she said.  

Councilors opposed to the proposed review board described the delay as politically motivated. 

Jelks countered that the entire issue has been political from the moment it was put forth more than a year before the election. 

“I think people forget when we started the equity agenda it had nothing to do with politics,” Jelks said, adding her focus has been on improving the relationships between the community and with police.

Jelks said she feels the entire conversation has centered on the review board’s impact on police, not on the community and the building of trust. 

“I’m very sad and disappointed that not one conversation I had, had put the community first,” Jelks said, noting minority communities overall, not just in Meriden have experienced what she called long standing negativity and harm.

But there was no acknowledgment of that during the latest discussions, Jelks said. “There were no ideas that came out of any discussions. … All of our conversations have been on addressing the impact to police.”

But, she said, “We as elected officials serve the public. The police serve the public … as employees.”

Councilor Bob Williams Jr., who sat on the Use of Force Review Committee, is skeptical about the timing of Monday’s vote. 

“I said it all along, the Democrats were definitely going to push this conversation until after the election. There’s no question about,” Williams said. “The general public doesn’t feel there’s a need for it.”

Williams was skeptical of the suggestion that the council’s Democratic Party leadership sought more information.

“It was basically an outright lie,” he said. He maintained his opposition to establishing the board. 

“We don’t need it in Meriden,” Williams said. 

Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona said his conclusion that a Civilian Review Board should be formed is unchanged. 

“I believe we should have one. Given the amount of authority police have, to use force, to take away an individual’s freedom, I don’t think it’s a huge request that we have some additional level of accountability, above and beyond what we already have,” Cardona said.

He described the notion that one doesn’t support police if they support additional oversight as a fallacy. 

“To say, someone who is calling for additional oversight is not supporting police or taking an anti-police position I don’t think that’s a reasonable position to take,” Cardona said. 

He reiterated his previous findings: of the 49 Connecticut municipalities that have police commissions composed of civilians, they are nearly evenly split by those with Democratic Party and Republican Party leadership. Most of those commissions, he said, will have considerably more authority than the review panel proposed in Meriden. 

Cardona countered the positions of those who say use of force complaints are a non-issue in the city, saying he would prefer for the council not to wait until such issues do arise.  

Mayor Kevin Scarpati has the power under Meriden’s city charter to veto the resolution within seven days should the council vote to pass it on Monday. Scarpati told the Record-Journal Friday he is still opposed to forming the review board. 

Scarpati said a consensus regarding its formation was not reached during a discussion last month that included himself, city officials, police leaders and City Council leadership.

Police leadership expressed concerns over retaining and recruiting officers and the overall duties and responsibilities of the review board during that meeting. There were no further meetings. 

It was at the last Leadership Committee meeting that Jelks said she would be putting the Civilian Review Board on the agenda, Scarpati said. 

“While it’s the right and privilege of the majority leader, personally I believe the optics are horrible, coming off of an election,” Scarpati said, adding if a vote is held, it should be after the new council is sworn in next month. 



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