Building community confidence

Professionalism. That word came to mind watching Tuesday's meeting of the New London Police Community Relations Committee.

The committee has gone through big changes in the past year. Wayne Vendetto, who served as chairman for nearly two decades, had to take a back seat when the committee elected new City Council appointee Reid Burdick chairman, one of several fresh faces. The new blood led to an examination of the committee's purpose and how it went about its business.

These changes providentially coincided with the appointment of a new police chief, Margaret Ackley, sworn in last June. Chief Ackley has also made significant changes. She is an ambassador, frequently appearing at various civic functions, dovetailing with the committee's interest to improve community-department relations.

She persuaded the council to restore the deputy chief position, improving administration. Among Deputy Chief Marshall Segar's duties is reviewing civilian complaints alleging police misconduct. In the past these investigations rotated among captains, leading to inconsistency. And the captains were members of the same union as the officers they investigated. The deputy chief position is nonunion.

Chief Ackley has made transparency a priority, pledging to make available any records required under the state's Freedom of Information Act. She recognizes that openness generates public confidence, even if at times it can prove embarrassing, while secrecy invites suspicion.

"Are we being as transparent as we can?" she asked the committee. "I don't want people to think we are hiding anything."

And so Tuesday, perhaps for the first time since its formation in 1988, the committee stayed in open session to discuss three civilian complaint reports from Deputy Chief Segar. Chairman Burdick, armed with a favorable opinion from the city attorney, said the practice of going behind closed doors was ending.

Mr. Vendetto, still concerned about open discussion of matters involving police personnel, tried to block the discussion with a motion to table. It failed 5-4.

While the deputy chief did not sustain any of the three civilian allegations, he did find room for improving police performance - better investigatory techniques, adherence to protocol, common courtesy. Such recommendations will now be part of the review process, said the chief. "We want to get better."

As for the committee, it is awaiting a council review to see if its role will expand with more authority added to its now advisory function. But already, things have come a long way.

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