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New London Police Community Relations discussions no longer in public

By Sasha Goldstein

Publication: The Day

Published December 05. 2012 4:00AM
Practice was found to violate FOI law

New London - Discussions about police investigations into residents' complaints of police officers are no longer being heard in the public portion of Police Community Relations Committee meetings.

A committee vote to review such cases in executive session came in October, 33 months after the committee was told by the then-city law director that such sessions were in violation of Freedom of Information laws. Since that March 2010 decision, all discussions had been publicly heard.

Committee member Kris Wraight expressed concern Tuesday over reverting to the old practice of holding hearings in closed session and asked for a special meeting in January to discuss the decision.

Wayne Vendetto, who at Tuesday's meeting was voted the new chairman, said discussions about the complaints are considered personnel matters and belong in executive session.

No civilian complaints were presented Tuesday, so no executive session was held. Two cases were heard at last month's meeting, but with no public present, the group did not go into executive session, Vendetto said.

The committee's job is to determine whether the police department adequately investigates civilian complaints. Though discussions are now in closed session, the committee votes in public session, Vendetto said.

Minutes from the group's November meeting show that then-Chairman Jay Wheeler and committee member Suzanne Cattanach said "we were basically railroaded into hearing complaints in open session" nearly three years ago, when the decision to open the complaint process was made.

Prior to that, cases were heard for more than 20 years in executive session. Vendetto, who is an original board member, said Tuesday that all other city departments hold hearings on employee disciplinary matters in closed session.

During the meeting in March 2010 that changed the practice, Police Chief Margaret Ackley, who at the time expressed a concern for more transparency in the process, pointed out that once the police department completes its investigation into a civilian complaint, both the investigation and the complaint become public documents.

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

Ackley was not present at Tuesday's meeting. The department administration was represented by Deputy Chief Peter Reichard, who did not speak on the issue.

Police union President Todd Lynch, who was not present Tuesday, has been a supporter of closed reviews at past meetings. David McElroy, union vice president, represented the organization Tuesday but did not speak on the issue.

The committee will next meet Jan. 2. No date has been set for the special meeting to discuss the complaint review changes.

s.goldstein@theday.com

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