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New London petition seeks to overturn police staffing vote

New London — A petition drive is underway to reverse the City Council’s recent repeal of an ordinance that mandates a minimum staffing level at the police department.

The petition calls for the council to reconsider its March 1 vote to repeal the 80-officer mandate or, if the council does not reconsider, move the question to a citywide vote.

The council voted to repeal the 2014 staffing ordinance with support from a coalition of different groups in the city, the same groups who have called for reductions in the police budget in line with a national movement pushing for police reforms.

The repeal of the ordinance does not prohibit the police department, now at 73 officers, from increasing its staff, nor does it impact police funding. But former city councilor John Russell, who helped organize the petition drive, said the repeal was a thinly veiled first step toward “defunding,” police.

Nationally and locally there have been repeated calls to defund police, or shift funding from police department budgets to other areas such as social services and education.

Russell called the current council “social justice warriors” who have “followed the whole national narrative right down the line,” and expects that the council will not stop with the repeal of the ordinance.

“This is a totally bipartisan effort," Russell said of the petition drive. "I believe it’s time somebody fights back and says ‘no’ this is not what we want in New London."

Kathleen Mitchell, also helping in the petition drive, said she was frustrated that the council took up the repeal at what appeared to be the urging of activist groups who petitioned the council. The groups included Hearing Youth Voices, People’s Budget New London and Step Up New London, among others. The petition called the repeal "a first step to re-imagining New London's public safety infrastructure."

Mitchell said the petition was a pretense for the council to act on behalf of the residents.

“It’s a small select group of people. They pushed their own agenda and foisted it on all the citizens of New London,” Mitchell said. “A lot if residents are opposed to this. That tells me (the council members) minds were made up.”

Some members of the council have called the staffing ordinance arbitrary. The 80-officer goal had not been met since the ordinance was enacted.

Council President Pro Tempore Alma Nartatez, responding to questions from The Day on Monday, reiterated that the vote had was not about defunding police.

“The police department needs to justify their budget just like all other city departments do, with facts. Not because of some outdated, unrealistic ordinance. Rescinding was the right vote to take. I am certain of that,” Nartatez said. “The staffing ordinance was not realistic in the sense that budget variances change year over year. Having the ordinance only fueled the argument and the false optics that we were not hiring enough police officers based on an outdated study."

Kat Goulart, who is helping gather signatures, said that while the department has never reached 80 officers, the ordinance has served as a morale booster and enabled the department to hire officers through the years. She said she also believes the council “absolutely took the first step” in moving toward a reduction in the police budget.

“I live here and I am a strong proponent of safe communities. At the end of the day you have to have some measure of support for the folks on the other end of the line in the event of an emergency. The repeal says to me is this city council doesn’t care about the police department,” Goulart said.

Goulart is the chairwoman of the New London Republican Town Committee and president of the Police Community Relations Committee.

Goulart said she was disappointed the council decided to waive the second and third readings of the repeal vote, a move that bypassed longer discussions and served to squelch opposing opinions.

According to the City Charter, a petition can be submitted within 15 days after a City Council measure and must be signed by 10% of the number of people who voted in the last city election. Russell said his understanding is that the petition needs at least 370 signatures.

Following the March 1 vote, the New London police union website posted photos of the six city councilors who voted in favor with a photo of a crowd holding a “F*** the police” banner, and a caption that states, “Councilors now can start the defund.” John Satti was the lone council member to vote against the repeal.

Nartatez said it was very disappointing and frightening that the union was taking this position on their official website.

“Furthermore, it diminishes all the hard work this Council and this administration has done around community policing outreach,” Nartatez said.

Goulart and Russell are hosting a “drive-through” petition signing event from 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Toby May Park at 611 Ocean Ave.

g.smith@theday.com

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