MERIDEN — After months of debate and the council override of a mayoral veto, the city will have a Civilian Police Review Board tasked with evaluating the police department’s internal investigation of use-of-force complaints. But how soon that board will be fully implemented, with nine appointed members, remains to be seen.
City leaders are now discussing the details of implementation. The City Council voted 8 to 4 on Nov. 24 to override Mayor Kevin Scarpati’s veto of the measure. Scarpati issued his veto a week after the council passed its original Civilian Review Board resolution on Nov. 15.
Details under discussion include the training of those selected to become board members.
The board’s charge is to review completed internal investigations of use-of-force complaints filed by civilians “solely as to the thoroughness, completeness, accuracy and objectivity of the investigation.”
The board would either vote to concur or not concur with those aspects and prepare a written summary of its findings. The findings would be forwarded to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, the city manager, and police chief. Failure to act on a referred complaint “shall be considered as a recommendation to concur” with the internal review.
Board findings would be advisory only.
According to the ordinance, the Civilian Police Review Board will have nine members, all of whom must be city residents, serving in an unpaid capacity. Four will be representatives from each of the city’s voting districts. Five members would serve in an at-large capacity and must be appointed from a limited group of professions. The professions include lawyer, criminal justice professional, educational professional, licensed mental health professional, licensed healthcare professional, clergy member, local business member, justice-impact person, the administrator or board member of a non-profit organization and a retired law enforcement officer in good standing.
The first members appointed will serve three year terms, while subsequent appointees will serve two-year terms. The board will also have liaisons from the police department and from the city manager’s office.
The ordinance states no board member “shall be a former sworn officer of the Meriden Police Department” unless that officer has not been employed by the city for a period of at least five years.
Membership shall be in compliance with the provisions of Connecticut General Statute 9-167a, which requires minority political party representation on governmental bodies.
The language requires criminal background checks of all individuals being considered. Board members cannot have Class A or Class B felony convictions. They must not have been convicted of Class C or D felonies within five years prior to their potential appointment and must not be involved in a pending criminal matter. According to the Connecticut Penal Code, Class A felonies are the most serious crimes — including murder, sexual assault of a minor, arson and home invasion. Class B felonies include first-degree manslaughter and first-degree sexual assault.
Meanwhile, Class C and D felonies include crimes with shorter prison sentences — among them, second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault, not resulting in serious injury.
City Manager Timothy Coon, in an email to the Record-Journal, stated city officials have not identified a timeline for the board’s full implementation, “but we will move forward as rapidly as circumstances allow.”
Officials do not have specific plans regarding the recruitment of potential board members. Coon stated, per the city’s charter, the mayor would appoint board members. The city would provide assistance, if needed, to find members who meet the ordinance’s qualifications. The assistance may include advertising and recruitment.
The City Council would confirm the appointments. To meet as needed
The ordinance does not state specifically how often the board will meet. Coon stated the board will make that determination, which would be driven by caseload. If there are no referred cases, the board would not meet.
Police Chief Roberto Rosado declined to comment about the board.
Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona said training would likely be the “biggest ticket item” as far as potential cost. Cardona explained that determination would be agreed upon by Coon and Rosado.
Coon said the board’s future members must train before they can carry out that board’s mission.
“The one thing the chief and I are looking at is what constitutes the training — at least the minimum of training,” Coon said.
Scarpati said in an interview his office needs to ensure it is selecting the right individuals to serve on the board. In addition to meeting the requisite qualifications those individuals must have strong attendance records, even if at this point, it is unclear how often the board will be meeting.
Scarpati said he has spoken with between eight to 10 members of the Meriden Police Department since the council’s special meeting last week. During those conversations, he asked about morale among department members.
“The answer has been pretty much the same: morale is low,” he said. The current low levels of morale appear to be driven by skepticism that the review board will be bias free.
Scarpati said as mayor he is dedicated to ensuring “this committee is going to be fair and represented with little to no bias.”