As police defunding and reform stay in the national spotlight, the police chiefs of Wallingford and Southington answered questions during Town Council meetings in their respective towns.
Southington Police Chief Jack Daly spoke Monday evening and Wallingford Police Chief William Wright spoke Tuesday at the request of councilors after Black Lives Matter rallies took place earlier this month in both towns.
Hundreds of residents marched in downtown Southington June 1 following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Police were present at the march and their interaction with protesters drew praise from council members. Deputy Police Chief William Palmieri marched with the protesters when they asked him to do so.
On Monday, Republican Council Chairwoman Victoria Triano said Daly was a leader in the state and
that Southington had good police-community relations.
“I want to thank you for your professionalism in guiding our department,” she told Daly.
Val DePaolo, a Democratic councilor, agreed that relations in town were good between police and residents. She asked about oversight and the town’s Board of Police Commissioners.
“(Training) has to go hand in hand with other structural initiatives like transparency and accountability,” she said. “It’s important to have ongoing oversight and accountability all the time to make sure we’re always looking to do better.”
Daly said while some major cities are just now considering civilian review boards, Southington has had one for decades.
“We’re ahead of the curve,” he said.More than just an advisory board
James Verderame, a Democrat and chairman of the police board, said his group approves hiring, firing, policies and other department matters.
“We’re not just an advisory board,” Verderame said.
In 2013, voters rejected a town charter change that would have put the police and fire departments under the town manager. Verderame said he was glad town residents maintained the police commission.
While residents could complain about police behavior to the commission, Verderame said he doesn’t remember a time when that’s happened. Mostly there are commendations from town residents or groups about interactions with police.
Verderame also credited Daly with keeping up with training and standards. The department has Tier 1 accreditation with the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council and is working on Tier 2.
That means adopting and informing officers of a host of new policies, Daly said. The department is almost through the 83 policies needed for Tier 2. An additional 118 are required for Tier 3, the highest level.
While police relations with the community and chokeholds have been debated in other communities, Daly said neither are a concern in Southington.
Chokeholds aren’t allowed except in life-or-death situations, he said, and haven’t been for many years.
The department has 63 officers, two animal control officers and 21 other employees. Officers sit on the board of many town organizations and many live in town.
“They’re your baseball coaches, they’re your football coaches … they’re part of your community every day,” Daly said of officers. “I’ve always lived in this town and a lot of my officers do too.” Wallingford
Wallingford residents packed the sidewalks of North and South Main streets on June 5 for a protest against police brutality, after a week of daily sign-waving by a small group at the gazebo.
Wallingford Town Councilor Gina Morgenstein requested the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting after the council received letters from residents, she said during the meeting.
“There really is this idea,” she said, “not to defund the police, but to encourage sharing of responsibilities, restructuring in ways that put efforts for domestic and social issues into a place that is not … a paramilitary organization.”
There’s roughly 100 people employed at the Wallingford police station, including 75 sworn officers, 11 in the 911 dispatch center and about 10 more support staff.
The department holds Tier 3 accreditation by the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council and also submits to a voluntary program of more than 327 standards, many of which have multiple components, that keep the department in good standing, Wallingford Police Chief William Wright said.
He said the department has 152 policies, not one any less than half a dozen pages, which cover bias profiling, police/citizen contact, recording of police activity and many other topics.
“These policies come into play with everything we do,” Wright said. “I believe we have a good relationship with our community and I’m confident that, although we’re not perfect, we are really far-reaching into the community by design.” Internal investigations
Problems are “by and large” eliminated, Wright said, by hiring the right people, training them correctly and supervising them appropriately.
When there is a need for internal affairs investigations into police conduct, “we’re very quick to launch an internal probe to determine the facts and circumstances,” he said.
Last year, the department launched 52 internal affairs investigations and sustained 45 of them. All but one were launched by the department’s own review of officer actions, and the other one was from a citizen complaint.
“We like to think that we hold ourselves to a higher standard that the community would expect us to,” Wright said.
Morgenstein asked if there were any police duties that Wright felt could be moved to the town Youth & Social Services or Health departments.
Wright said that the biggest concern with sharing duties is that no child or family gets left in the gap between police and Youth & Social Services when the departments collaborate.
He added that juvenile laws are continually changing, and absent someone qualified to handle youth-related issues working in town government, there would be a need for a juvenile review board.
Members of the public asked about increasing diversity in the department, the 8 Can’t Wait campaign which advocates for more restrictive use of force policies, how the public can review police policies, the officer hiring process, the complaint process, community outreach programs, the body cameras that the department is slated to receive and when cruiser dash cams are recording.