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Following months of frustration over what appeared to be a lack of interest by federal authorities into civil rights complaints against the New London police department, a member of the state NAACP said there are new encouraging signs that those complaints are being addressed.
Tamara Lanier, criminal justice chairwoman for the state NAACP, said last week's meeting with representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office and New London NAACP President Don Wilson left her with the impression that concerns about what appears to be a "pattern of abuse and racial profiling" are getting a hard look.
Lanier said it's been several years since federal authorities were first presented with a host of complaints against the police department, many of which came to light after a local man, Lance Goode, alleged a New London police officer planted drugs at the scene of his arrest.
The complaints range from racial profiling and physical abuse to wrongful arrests and searches, Lanier said. She said there are stories about raids without warrants and arrests in cases that should have never made it to court.
"These are not isolated incidents or an aberration," Lanier said. "I think the mentality (with the police department) has been, we'll do anything to make a case."
Lanier said it was a setback last year when U.S. justice department officials announced privately they would not pursue a criminal case against Roger Newton, the former officer whom Goode accused of planting drugs. Goode has a pending civil complaint against Newton.
Since that time, however, Lanier said it appears the federal authorities are revisiting the civil accusations and are now offering training to the police department. She said Police Chief Margaret Ackley has made a good faith effort to improve the department but is still stymied by politics and what Lanier called distractions by the union.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on any pending investigations, criminal or civil.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio on Tuesday said he supported efforts of the NAACP and believes an outside review by federal authorities "would be helpful in ensuring the past practices in our department of which I have been critical are indeed corrected.
"I called for investigation into the police department as a candidate (for mayor) and I believe that, because of some of the incidents brought to light … it's fully appropriate a federal investigation be done," Finizio said.
Finizio said, however, it would be up to the U.S. Attorney's Office to determine if an investigation is warranted.
"I can only help ensure any past practices that need to be corrected are corrected," Finizio said.
Lanier said training at the police department being performed by the U.S. Attorney's Office is a "good start," to address concerns.
New London Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said the current training was requested by the department and is part of what is done during the normal course of being a state-certified agency. The training involves "Terry stops" or the temporary detention of a person because of reasonable suspicion of a crime, along with training on laws pertaining to search and seizure - "what you can and what you can't do legally," Reichard said.
Officers are being updated on the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling in both subjects, he said,
"Any training coming from the (U.S. Attorney's Office) is valuable to officers on the street," Reichard said.
He said he was not privy to any ongoing investigations by federal authorities and said all citizens' complaints are quickly acknowledged, documented and addressed according to the department's general duty manual.
"All complaints against the department are fully investigated," he said.