That there is dysfunction, dissent and low morale within the ranks of the New London Police Department now appears beyond dispute. It was on display at a recent meeting of the Public Safety Committee of the City Council. It is clear in comments coming from the union leadership.
It is almost beside the point now who is to blame or how it came to be. But since police are among the most important institutions serving the city, it is up to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to find a way to straighten it out.
The vast majority of officers certainly just want to do their jobs serving and protecting in an atmosphere free of so much drama and politics. Many have accomplished that by moving to jobs in other departments.
Since the mayor cannot change the entire department, the obvious avenue to a restart of relations is a change at the top. Appointed chief four years ago under the former city manager, Chief Margaret Ackley has a tenure marked by more twists and turns than an overwritten soap opera — lawsuits, an email controversy, political intrigue, a work injury, and seemingly constant turmoil.
We applauded Chief Ackley’s high-profile participation in community activities, particularly early in her tenure, her emphasis on protocol, her open approach to handling citizen complaints and a more careful control of overtime. But the internal problems, the suspicion of ulterior motives, and the picking of sides now color every policy discussion, as seen most recently in a debate about the proper use of canines in city policing.
Short of dereliction of duty — and there is no evidence of that — state law prohibits dismissal of police chiefs. There is good reason; a chief has to be free to assure her department follows an investigation wherever it goes without fear of political repercussions.
But there may be a path to a fresh start. In January 2012 Chief Ackley reached a three-year contract deal, signed by Mayor Finizio (a major blunder without council OK), which included remuneration for unpaid compensation time and settlement of an earlier legal claim. The council, however, disagreed with the terms and refused to ratify the deal.
Chief Ackley has sued the city for violating the terms of the contract. Reaching a settlement could provide the path to an amicable departure. It is a path the city should explore.