Last week, on the night before Thanksgiving, the Meriden City Council voted to override a mayoral veto. Mayor Kevin Scarpati’s veto was an opportunity, a chance to reverse course on a plan to establish a Civilian Review Board to oversee the police department. A CRB, as it came to be known, could be seen as a local response to a national reckoning with law enforcement relations that has ensued following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Municipalities across the nation were examining anew relationships with police departments. The phrase “defund the police” became a part of that conversation, and lent a negative connotation to efforts to strengthen accountability.
In Meriden, the City Council established a committee tasked with making a recommendation as to whether the city should set up a review board. The committee recommended doing so, and then things stalled. Instead of acting on the committee recommendation, Majority Leader Sonya Jelks said more time was needed to talk with those involved.
Though not all members of the council were up for reelection, some were, and the delay led to accusations that political motivation was involved.
The council voted to establish a CRB, then Scarpati vetoed the move. That happened after the election, and it gave an opportunity to reverse course. It also meant that two thirds of the city council was needed to override.
Before that vote took place, Bob Williams Jr., a We the People Party councilor, urged his fellow councilors to not support the CRB. It wasn’t needed in Meriden, he said. It was a position that had become familiar. Support for police was vocal.
What was perhaps less vocal was support for the CRB, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. The 8 to 4 vote to override, a vote built on the strength of the Democratic majority, can be seen as an effort to represent those for whom relations with police are not so straightforward, those who have their doubts but are not as vocal about it.
The Civilian Review Board can be seen then as an effort to get everyone on board when it comes to supporting the police. Doing so entails working against a tide of perception that suggests police and the citizenry they serve and protect are at odds and need an intervening body. That will be among the most pressing challenges.
Meriden has spent a lot of time deliberating over this. The decision has been made. The work ahead must be for the betterment of all city residents.