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Alleged police union bullying leads six residents to resign from New London police committee

New London — Six members of the Police Community Relations Committee submitted their resignations on Monday, citing cyberbullying and intimidation by members of the New London police union.

The members of the committee, a group tasked with reviewing the adequacy of completed investigations into civilian complaints against police, sent a letter to the City Council on Monday. The group said they have been misrepresented, maligned and “targeted on the radio, social media, in newspapers and on the Local 724 Police Union website.”

“The attacks on this website, also known as cyberbullying, feature photographs of members of the PCRC and hostile language,” the letter reads. “They are designed to depict certain members as anti-police and to intimidate those members.”

The police union website often features photos and critiques of city officials and committee members who make statements or cast votes the union disagrees with. Members of the City Council were a recent target for their vote to repeal an 80-officer staffing ordinance.

Longtime member Tracee Reiser was among the group to resign. She said the bullying had reached a tipping point for members who have volunteered their time out of a genuine desire to better the community. The result was a backlash from the police union instead of an open line of communication, she said.

“Civil and respectful dialogue and communication is what this is about. The inability to have that — that’s why people are resigning,” Reiser said. “It’s too stressful. We live in a life already complicated by the pandemic and other issues going on … and to be additionally targeted for bullying is unacceptable. This was not done lightly. This is for personal health and well being. This is for positive change we want to happen.”

Others to resign, effective April 30, are Robert Bareiss, Wendy Castillo, Habibah Abdul-Hakeem, Carolyn Wilson and Kris Wraight.

Remaining members of the committee include chairperson Kat Goulart and founding member Marie Gravell. Other voting members include a police union designee and city council council member Kevin Booker, who is a member by ordinance because he serves as the chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee. The group is authorized for up to 13 members, and vacancies include a member of the NAACP, a member from the education community and a designee of the police chief.  

Goulart said Monday that while she understands what led to the resignations, her recommendation to the group was to file an ethics complaint.

With the members gone, Goulart said, there are just four voting members left and not enough people to conduct business. She said she would look to address the council to hasten the appointment of any new applicants. Six members are needed for a quorum, she said.

Goulart said she has lingering questions about the future of the committee since the Public Safety Policy Review Committee recommended earlier this year that the city form a civilian police review board. That committee would have powers well beyond the scope of what the Police Community Relations Committee now has, though it is not clear whether it would replace it.

Goulart said members at times struggled to separate politics and personal viewpoints from their roles on the committee.

“It is an incredibly difficult job to sit on the Police Community Relations Committee and do both aspects of that job fully and impartially,” Goulart said. “On one side you have to be impartial and forget the other role, which is to be a cheerleader and build community. The facts are that we are in, more or less, a paperwork checking role. We don’t get to bring our politics into it.”

Goulart helped lead a successful petition to have the City Council revisit its vote to remove an 80-officer staffing ordinance and is viewed as one of the pro-police members on the committee.

Police Union President Todd Lynch and the group overstepped its boundaries — questioned police policies, reviewed past investigations and at times voiced what he called “far left, anti-police” sentiment. The union at one point filed a grievance over their actions.

“Kris Wraight is the champion of defunding police, getting rid of the 80-officer ordinance and was influential in the march through the city … that resulted in vandalism to a police building and vehicles,” Lynch said.

“The very group whose task is to hold us accountable doesn’t want us to hold them accountable for their anti-police stance,” Lynch said. “No one is going to lose any sleep about any of those people leaving.”

Lynch continued to defend the union’s website, saying the the posts were protected by the First Amendment. He said he had no plans to remove content from the website and his answer to anyone that demands a change would be to “go pound sand.”

It’s not the first time the police union has come under fire for its online posts. A special committee appointed to review police policies and procedures issued a report earlier this year that condemned the website for targeting individuals.

“We find this behavior completely unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest manner,” the report read. “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.”

Reiser reiterated that, in her opinion, none of the committee members who resigned are anti-police and said she expected they would find other ways to actively contribute to the community.

g.smith@theday.com

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