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New London police policy committee can hold closed-door meetings, city says

New London — Amid calls for police accountability and transparency, a new committee formed to scrutinize local police policies is conducting some of its work behind closed doors.

The Public Safety Policy Review Committee has held two meetings thus far, one public and one private.

No links were provided to the public to join the July 1 meeting, something that didn’t sit well with committee member Tamara Lanier, who also is vice president of the New London NAACP.

Lanier said the committee is still very much in its infancy and her hope was to have a formative discussion surrounding police reform and “re-imagining of policing in New London.” The framework and objectives of the group are still being worked out.

“What the public is demanding is truth and transparency with anything we do involving policing,” Lanier said. “We can’t have a secret committee and think the public is going to embrace that.”

Mayor Michael Passero said the intent of the committee is to methodically and quickly delve into police policies as a working group. He said the meetings are expected to be held weekly, with some open to the public and some not public to allow more working time for the group.

Passero, who hand-picked the committee members, deferred legal questions about the committee’s ability to hold closed-door meetings to City Attorney Jeffrey Londregan.

Londregan, in an email, said the committee meetings are not really considered “meetings” under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, citing a portion of Sec. 1-200 of the law.

“An exception to the definition of ‘meeting’ under the Act is an administrative meeting of a single-member public agency,” Londregan wrote. ”The Mayor is a single-member public agency and he established this Committee as an administrative working group to advise and counsel him and his Administration regarding potential policing policy revisions.”

He said the meetings are akin to the mayor’s regular department head meetings.

Londregan said there is no prohibition against the committee deciding to hold public meetings, “and it is the intent of the Mayor to regularly have some of the meetings in public so that the public can be kept apprised of the work and progress that the Committee is making.”

A link to the next virtual committee meeting, at 4 p.m. Wednesday, is posted on the city’s website, http://newlondonct.org.

Thomas Hennick, public information officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission, agreed that if the Public Safety Police Review Committee meetings are being considered as “staff meetings,” then the mayor has the ability to hold them without public notice, since they don't fall under the definition of meetings of a public agency.

Committees formed by a formal vote of the City Council or other agency, on the other hand, would be subject to requirements of the FOI Act.

Lanier said she envisions ongoing discussion about how meetings will be held.

The group is facilitated by John F. McKnight Jr., Connecticut College’s dean of institutional equity and inclusion. In addition to Lanier, members include City Council President Efrain Dominguez, City Councilor Curtis Goodwin, New London NAACP President Jean Jordan, Jerry Fischer, Lonnie Braxton, the Rev. Florence Clarke, Mary Savage and Daryl McGraw.

g.smith@theday.com

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