It was not a surprise when Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati vetoed the City Council’s decision to establish a police Civilian Review Board. In a conversation with the Record-Journal’s editorial board before the election, he made it clear that he didn’t support what has come to be more commonly known as the CRB.
His opponent in the election, Republican Elain Cariati, was also not a fan. “I don’t think we need to micromanage the Police Department,” she’d said.
So many appear to feel similarly you can’t be blamed for wondering how the proposal got established in the first place. But many also feel it’s needed, and now it’s a reality.
On the night before Thanksgiving, a night rivaled by perhaps only Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as a time when people are most likely to have other things on their minds, the City Council voted to override the mayor’s veto. The vote was by the necessary two thirds majority, 8 to 4.
The CRB had become a hot political topic. A committee had recommended its establishment, but the council did not vote on it before the election. That provoked some suspicion about political motivation, and that came up during the hybrid remote and in-person meeting at City Hall council chambers.
Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks was put on the defensive. As the Record-Journal’s Michael Gagne reported, she denied it was politically motivated. “We are here tonight not because there was a big desire to do a political move,” she said. The broader intent was to discuss how every department could better serve the community. “Unfortunately the conversation continues to center around the CRB and we have not been able to progress past those initial conversations,” she said.
It’s not hard to see why. Municipalities across the nation have been reviewing relationships with police departments. It’s a complicated, uneasy situation. Establishing something like a civilian review board can come across as a criticism — why would something like that be needed if there wasn’t something wrong? — and it’s a challenge to get beyond that perception.
Bob Williams Jr., a We the People Party councilor, urged Democrats to consider that “a CRB is not needed in Meriden. It’s just not needed. I encourage you , each and every one of you to have the courage to do what’s right for our citizens and not a party.”
But there are clearly those who do not see it that way. Current leadership may be exemplary, but that hasn’t always been the case. “There should not be a change of leadership which changes how our policing is done. It really should be consistent, fair and just for everyone,” said Jelks.
Police Chief Roberto Rosado did not speak at the meeting, but former Chief Robert Kosienski Sr. urged the council not to override the veto. A public safety board in the past “became a political disaster,” he said. Since the override is now a done deal, that could be taken as an opportunity, a chance to review how this type of effort has worked out in the past as a way of avoiding repeat missteps.
The question of whether Meriden should have a civilian review board has been answered. Can a CRB shed the perception that it is an inherent criticism? Pursuing an answer to that question is just beginning.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at firstname.lastname@example.org