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Wright the right choice for New London police chief

We join with the New London community in congratulating former captain Brian Wright as the new chief of the city police department and commend Mayor Michael Passero for making that appointment.

Capt. Wright became acting chief earlier this month when Chief Peter Reichard announced his retirement after nine years with the city. The torch officially passes when Reichard’s contract expires June 30. We thank Reichard for his service to the city.

Often in the past this editorial space has urged agencies — be it in education, government administration, or policing — to conduct a broad search for candidates when a top leadership position becomes available. But there are exceptions, and this is one. When you have an ideal candidate, why search further?

Wright has spent his entire law enforcement career working for the NLPD, joining in 1994. He has risen through the ranks and, in the process, has been exposed to a variety of roles — among them patrolman, school resource officer, and director of the investigative division. He knows the city and he knows the department. That experience should serve him well in assuming the top job at age 52.

Incoming Chief Wright also checks off another box — diversity. He will become New London’s first Black police chief. Wright is not getting the promotion for this reason, nor should he, but it is a welcome result of his appointment nonetheless.

At a time when more of us have faced the disquieting reality that Black Americans are more likely to be confronted by police, and those confrontations are more likely to end badly and even fatally, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of having police forces that better reflect the communities they serve. Of course, this reality is not new to some Americans —Black Americans — who have long faced encounters with police with far greater trepidation than their white neighbors.

Seeing diversity, at the highest rank, may well help build bridges to the community. Indeed, in his comments to The Day, Wright referenced the priority he will give to “fostering community connections that build trust.”

Wright’s arrival in the top-cop job could also aid in diversity recruitment efforts.

This has all the appearances as a time of change for the NLPD and its relationship with the community. Earlier this month Officer Todd Lynch, the fiery and often controversial president of the local police union, also announced his retirement. We thank Lynch, too, for his long service — 20 years with the state police and 14 years with New London, including serving as union president since 2011.

Lynch fiercely defended his fellow officers in the union and felt all police were being unfairly labeled and criticized for the bad actions of a relatively small percentage. That was his job as union leader, and he has a point.

But Lynch was too eager to go into battle and too unwilling to consider valid criticisms. When the website maintained by New London Police Union Local 724 was used to target police critics and elected leaders, often employing unflattering, mug-like photos and puerile commentary, it went too far. An ad hoc committee appointed by Mayor Passero to consider how to improve police and community relations recognized that.

The depiction of police critics “has been experienced as threatening in nature,” stated the report. “It will be impossible for police to develop a trusting relationship with the community if this kind of behavior continues and becomes endemic to police culture in New London.”

Ideally, the arrival of a new chief and the pending appointment of new union leadership will be a chance to turn a page, to look for more avenues of cooperation and tone down the confrontation.

Finally, we address the issue of the City Charter provision that requires that department heads, including police chief, live in the city. Passero has been ignoring it. Wright lives in North Stonington.

The provision is outdated and should be changed. That’s a better choice than simply ignoring it. The city has not considered charter revisions since voters approved a change to a mayor-led government a little more than a decade ago. It’s time to update the charter, including asking voters to remove the residency provision.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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