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New London forms committee to look at police policies

New London — Police department policies and the way they impact residents are getting a closer look in New London.

The new Public Safety Police Review Committee met for an organizational meeting on Wednesday with initial members chosen by Mayor Michael Passero.

The idea of a closer scrutiny of police policies and procedures is the direct result of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality ignited by the death of George Floyd by a white police officer on May 25 in Minneapolis.

“I’m hearing from a lot of voices in the city that, even in New London, the way we police has to change,” Passero said. “It’s really important to me that, whatever change comes, we build strong community consensus around those changes, including with police.”

The formation of the committee was spearheaded in part by Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron, who Passero said had suggested the city could benefit from the expertise of John F. McKnight Jr., the college’s dean of institutional equity and inclusion. McKnight is the facilitator for the committee.

McKnight is joined on the committee by City Council President Efrain Dominguez, Councilor Curtis Goodwin, New London NAACP President Jean Jordan, Jerry Fischer, Lonnie Braxton, Rev. Florence Clarke, Mary Savage, New London NAACP Vice President Tamara Lanier and Daryl McGraw.

"My expectations are to have much-needed conversations regarding police policies in New London," Dominguez said. "The committee is needed because community input should be included."

"This committee is essential to undoing any systemic or institutional issues," Goodwin said. "My hope is that we address any immediate concerns and develop long-term strategies that result in effective community policing. I expect the community to be heard first and foremost. Further, I expect us to be multigenerational and diverse with our membership and intentional with our purpose."

The consensus of the committee members during the first meeting was to add more youths to the group. Locally, the youth activist group Hearing Youth Voices has petitioned for, among other things, removal of police from schools, fines based on income, community oversight of police union contracts and a reduction to the police budget to better fund services to support “black, brown and poor" people. More than 6,000 people have signed the online petition.

Passero said his administration already has taken steps to address some of the social service issues facing the city, starting with the hiring of Jeanne Milstein, a former state child advocate, in 2016 to serve in the newly created position of human services director.

Milstein has been helping coordinate social services for the portion of the population often interacting with police, most frequently those with mental health and substance abuse issues. Emergency responses related to such issues have been a burden on the police and fire departments, Passero said.

Passero said that while there is a process in place that provides follow-up work by social service agencies for things like mental health issues, it is the sometimes volatile first interaction with police on these calls that perhaps needs more work.

The next committee meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. on July 1. Details on access to the meeting remotely are available on the city website, ci.new-london.ct.us.

Passero said the committee will be run without influence from city administration and when work is completed, he expects a "fair and independent review" along with recommendations.

g.smith@theday.com

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