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Shift funds from New London police to meet vital needs

The killing of George Floyd in May 2020 started a national reckoning with the systems of justice and policing in our country, but these problems are not new. Nationally and locally, our nation has a long history of racial profiling, police brutality, over-policing, and the criminalization of people in crisis.

While some New Londoners echo Lee Elci’s assertion, in his January column, that “NLPD faces criticism without substance,” there have been many examples of missteps, abuses, and discriminatory actions by New London officers:

• In 2013, The Day’s analysis of New London traffic stops revealed that “Blacks and Hispanics pulled over by city police are nearly twice as likely as whites to have their vehicles searched,” and columnist David Collins reported that victims of K-9 attacks were overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic: 89% in 2009 and 100% in 2010.

• In October 2014, Lashano Gilbert, in need of mental health services, was killed by New London police as a result of being repeatedly tased, pepper-sprayed, and held down by officers.

• In December 2011, following a 911 call for assistance to transport an intoxicated client to the hospital, SCADD employees reported that responding officers attacked the client from behind, slammed his head into the concrete, repeatedly punched him and pepper sprayed him.

• In August 2011, Curtis Cunningham, who struggled with addiction, stole and crashed an ice truck; although unarmed, he was shot five times by Officer Northup, suffered paralysis as a result, and received a $2 million settlement from the city.

• In May 2009, Officers Lynch and Galante illegally strip-searched a 29-year-old man who was later awarded $25,000 by our City Council.

We challenge a system that allows – perhaps even encourages – disparate treatment of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other residents of color.

We challenge a system that criminalizes individuals struggling with addiction or mental health issues by sending armed officers to respond to personal crises, a tragic misapplication of resources in a city where 40% of police calls are for mental-health-related incidents.

We challenge a system in which unarmed people get shot.

We challenge a system that violates the human rights of community members.

We challenge a system that does too little to prevent harm and frequently exacerbates rather than defuses volatile situations.

Right now, the question we must ask is: What steps can we take to ensure that New London will not be confronting these same concerns next year and in decades to come?

AFSCME, the union that represents NLPD officers, has advocated for the creation of a civilian corps of unarmed first responders and acknowledged at their 2020 International Convention that “setting of budget priorities and the proper allocation or reallocation of resources devoted to public safety should be decided at the community level…with due regard for the vital role played by the civilian employees who support public safety operations.”

As the city’s annual budget is prepared and decisions made about how best to allocate taxpayer dollars, information collected by the People’s Budget Coalition shines a light on our community’s priorities related to public safety. The nearly 1,000 New London residents surveyed reported that the services they need most are programs for youth and teens (66.4%), access to mental health services (50.2%), and affordable housing (45.5%); fewer than 10% supported more police presence.

At a recent community conversation, former Department of Justice Director Ronald Davis lamented: “Over the last 20 years we have deconstructed most of our social services in our communities...(Our) law enforcement footprint is too large and is taking finite resources away from the best responses to public safety.”

While budgeting is not precisely a zero-sum exercise, if we are truly committed to putting these values into practice, we will have to shift some of the funds now used for policing our residents to create the positions and programs needed to support education, recreation, health needs, and social services.

We applaud our city councilors for removing the 80-officer mandate as part of their commitment to this broader view of public safety, and are disappointed by the response of New London’s police union and some city residents. Anticipating that the issue will be included as a referendum question on the November municipal ballot, we look forward to continuing the discussion, and urge residents and public servants alike to ponder the words of “The Black List” founder Franklin Leonard: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

Now, as the fiscal-year 2022 budget season winds down, let us work together for an equitable, nurturing, and safe New London.

Ronna Stuller, chair of the New London Green Party, is joined in this commentary by fellow Greens Mirna Martínez, Frida Berrigan, and Andrew Lopez.

 

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