New London wrestles with how to handle complaints against cops

New London — A City Council committee is recommending the Police-Community Relations Committee no longer meet in closed session to discuss civilian complaints filed against police officers.

But the Public Safety Committee also suggested Monday night that the community relations committee redact the names of the police officers and the names of those filing the complaints during the public discussions.

Council President Michael Passero, who is not on the safety committee but attended the nearly three-hour meeting at City Hall, said afterward he did not think there would be support on the council to pass the recommendations.

"It would be a ruse,'' Passero said.

According to state Freedom of Information law, civilian complaints are public information when they are filed, and the investigation into the complaint also becomes public when it is completed and the police chief signs off on it.

Councilor John Maynard, chairman of the public safety committee, also suggested the police chief not sign the complaints until after the public relations committee has a chance to review them. An unsigned complaint is considered a pending investigation and is exempt from FOI laws.

Maynard and Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran, two of the three members of the committee, voted to forward the recommendations to the full council. Councilor Donald Macrino, also a public safety committee member, did not attend the meeting.

Members of the Police-Community Relations Committee, which is charged with reviewing civilian complaints against police to see if the investigation process was adequate, has not conducted any business for months. Members are at a stalemate over whether the meetings should be held in public or closed session.

"I feel we need the transparency in government,'' said Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard, who attended the meeting along with Officer Todd Lynch, president of the police union.

Reichard, who said he goes along with the administration's desire to have the meetings in public, said the department wants citizens to know that civilian complaints are thoroughly and professionally investigated and are done with the "utmost integrity."

Lynch, who questioned why the committee changed the way it does its business, said all the union wants is for police officers to be treated fairly.

For years, the committee, which was set up following a 1976 stipulated consent agreement issued by the U.S. District Court of Connecticut in a case brought by a Hispanic citizen, has met in closed session to discuss pending complaints.

But about two years ago, the police chief began signing the investigations before sending them to the committee, which in effect made the committee's work public.

Chairman Wayne Vendetto has argued that the names of the officers should not be mentioned in public to protect their reputations. He also said there is language in the investigations that should not be part of a public meeting. But he added that the committee takes its direction from the council.

Erica Richardson, a new member of the Police-Community Relations Committee, said after the meeting that it "makes absolutely no sense" for the names to be redacted since the information is already public.

"I've been hearing a lot of back and forth about protecting police officers and not enough about the civilians,'' Richardson said during the meeting. "I think police officers should be held to a higher standard. They carry guns. They can take away our civil rights."

Thomas A. Hennick, the public education officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission, said Friday it sounded as if the documents and the meetings should be open to the public.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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