MERIDEN — The expense of accrediting the city’s police department through a national program is among new costs the department will likely incur as a result of the police accountability law state legislators passed in summer.
The law was enacted following the high profile killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people by police in jurisdictions around the nation. The killings led to ongoing protests in communities throughout Connecticut and other states.
Capt. Nicholas Sherwood, who heads the department’s Internal Affairs Division, outlined some of the costs during a presentation to members of the City Council in a remote special meeting Wednesday night.
Sherwood was joined by Police Chief Roberto Rosado and Lt. John Mennone. In addition to giving an overview of some of the projected impacts of the law, Sherwood and Rosado detailed the results of the department’s internal investigations of citizen complaints about officers’ use of force, as well as the recording of police interactions with the public.
Sherwood estimated the upfront cost of being accredited by the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, as required under the law, as $17,000. Other costs would include annual renewal fees, the expense of providing officers with new training around implicit bias and the cost of body-worn and other cameras.
Incidents involving police use of force account for few of the thousands of calls police respond to on an annual basis, officials explained. The Internal Affairs Division has investigated 11 use of force complaints since 2018. Of those investigations, one complaint in 2019 was upheld, with discipline issued. Personnel involved in four other complaints were exonerated, after administrative review found their use of force had been lawfully justified. Over that same time period, four complaints were later withdrawn and two complaints ruled unfounded.
Rosado described ongoing surveillance when police are interacting with the public and with arrested parties. In addition to patrol cars being equipped with dashboard cameras and patrol officers wearing body cameras, members of the public often record their encounters with police using cell phones.
“We’re always being recorded,” Rosado said. “Most importantly, we’re always being recorded by citizens. We are being recorded by cell phones. We’re in an age where technology is big. I can’t think of a point in time when officers aren’t being recorded during encounters.”
Rosado, responding to a question from Mayor Kevin Scarpati about policies that need to be updated to comply with the accountability law, explained most of those changes would include updating written language
Other requirements in the law, including those around the reporting of incidents, “had already been done,” Rosado said. What’s new is that departments must submit reports on their uses of potentially lethal force to Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy.
The institute would review the reports and any additional information provided to make sure the actions taken are “in compliance with the law and policy in place,” Rosado explained, when City Councilor Michael Cardona asked about the requirement.
In response to another question from Scarpati about de-escalating a hostile situation, Rosado explained that the concept of de-escalation is “nothing new.”
“It has been around for a number of years,” Rosado said. “We call it verbal judo, using our voices to de-escalate a situation, and not just running to gunfire.”
Rosado used the example of a hypothetical encounter with a person armed with a knife who is threatening self harm. In such a scenario, officers would give space to start a dialogue and attempt to calm down that individual.
The accountability law limits the ability of individual officers and departments to invoke qualified immunity when faced with potential legal action by individuals who claim to have been wronged by police.
City Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn asked whether the limits might not have been “as onerous” to police departments and municipalities as previously thought.
Sherwood explained that local officials are still awaiting answers on that. “We’re not sure what it will completely entail,” he said, describing it as an issue his and other departments would “have to deal with as it comes.”
On a morale level, it is a concern for staff, he said.
“We let them know as long as you do the right thing you should be fine,” Sherwood said.
Scarpati asked about morale in his next question, pondering if the bill would prompt officers to leave and discourage potential new officers.
“Overall morale is good,” Rosado said, adding that officers “understand we’re very supportive and understanding of their concerns as a police department.”
Officers, he said, “want to make sure they are not thrown under the bus if a situation were to arrive. I think they understand we have their back if a situation goes wrong. I think the level of morale has been very high.”