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Groton Town Council taking step to review need for civilian committee on police matters

Groton — Amid nationwide calls for more police transparency and accountability, the Groton Town Council is moving to create a new Public Safety Committee to discuss opportunities for more civilian input into police matters.

As its immediate task, the Town Council Public Safety Committee would review the need for a civilian committee to provide input and guidance concerning the town’s police department, according to Town Manager John Burt.

The Public Safety Committee would recommend the form and duties of the potential civilian committee, assuming it finds the need, and also take up any other matters the council refers to it, he said.

The Town Council recommended creating the Public Safety Committee at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting and is slated to take a final vote on July 28. Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky would appoint councilors to the committee.

Councilor Aundré Bumgardner had made a referral to the council for a review of police policies and establishment of a police civilian review board in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis. Bumgardner also said he is heeding the call from former President Barack Obama for communities across the country to review their policing policies.

A legal opinion sought by the town from Town Attorney Eileen Duggan found the town could create an advisory body. But she said a police commission involved in the management and oversight of the police department couldn't be created without first changing the town charter. The charter vests management and oversight first in the town manager and then through the town manager down to the police chief.

Duggan also said the state’s statutes don’t define civilian review boards.

Proposed draft police reform legislation in the General Assembly says towns may establish a civilian review board, though Duggan said that it’s still too early to draw conclusions from the draft legislation.

After a lengthy discussion and different ideas on how to proceed, a majority of councilors decided to create a Town Council Public Safety Committee.

“I think that establishing that Council Public Safety Committee would be the best way to go because we would have something in place ready to act on whatever the General Assembly did,” Granatosky said. “You could be exploring issues. You could be hearing from other members of the community, and you will be ready to go.”

“I think this is just the beginning of a long discussion and long-term discussion about how we can strengthen accountability and transparency in police and civilian encounters,” Bumgardner said.

Bumgardner thanked town police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Jr. for participating in Tuesday’s meeting and said the chief has made it “abundantly clear” that he will always discuss issues impacting the police department. Bumgardner said he hopes the committee will yield opportunities for better understanding between the community and the police department and provide a venue to review data and have more of an in-depth discussion about improving relations between the community and the police department, than is possible at a council meeting with multiple items on the agenda.

The council had removed a previous Public Safety Committee from its list of standing committees in the spring of 2019, according to Burt.

“There had been a shift over time away from sub-committees so that all Council members would be fully involved in discussions on matters of importance,” Burt said by email. “With the call for more transparency and accountability for police departments across the United States, the Council saw the need to have members dedicate more time to adequately study the issue than what would be available during regular Council meetings.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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