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New London city councilor hopes to get police committee back on track

New London - Little business has taken place recently at the Police-Community Relations Committee as members clash over whether meetings should be held in public or closed session.

"I went to the last meeting and oh, my God, I found it was a mess,'' said City Councilor John Maynard, who is chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee. "Well, I shouldn't say it was a mess. But there was no production. From what I heard from talking to a few people, it's been like that for the past couple of months."

Maynard, in an effort to resolve the stalemate, will hold a Public Safety Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall. He has invited the city attorney, the deputy police chief, the police union, all members of the committee and the public.

"I want to get it so their meetings are functioning again,'' said Maynard, who became head of the Public Safety Committee in January.

Wayne Vendetto, chairman of the police committee, said he welcomes a decision by the City Council.

"At this point, I'm hopeful we will be able to come to a position where we can operate where we feel it's appropriate and best for the city, the citizens and the commission,'' said Vendetto, who has been on the committee since its inception in 1976.

The City Council set up the committee 37 years ago to foster better understanding between citizens and police. Later, the council instructed the committee to review the police department's internal investigations into civilian complaints. The committee can only find whether the investigation was adequate or inadequate, and if done in a timely fashion.

The establishment of the committee followed a stipulated consent agreement issued by the U.S. District Court of Connecticut in a case brought by a Hispanic citizen. The defendant alleged discriminatory actions by police and pointed to the lack of any formal process for filing a complaint.

For more than 25 years, the committee met behind closed doors to review the complaints. It justified the practice, because the complaints were not yet signed by the police chief and were considered open investigations, which are exempt from Freedom of Information scrutiny.

In 2010, shortly after Chief Margaret Ackley took over the police department and called for more transparency, the process changed. Completed and signed investigations were then sent to the committee and thus were public documents.

The city attorney advised the committee it should not meet in closed session to discuss the complaints.

Thomas A. Hennick, public education officer for the state's Freedom of Information Commission, said Friday it sounded as if the documents and the meetings should be open to the public. The commission has not received any recent complaints, he said.

But Vendetto said Friday he is reluctant to name police officers or discuss the complaints in open session. He suggested at the last committee meeting that the discussion be held in open session but the names of the officers and the complainants not be read into the record. The public could find out the names after the meeting from the deputy police chief who was in attendance, he said.

The mayor and deputy chief refused to participate in any discussions in executive session.


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