The New London Police Community Relations Committee should seize the opportunity tonight to continue its commitment of the past year to a more open and community-friendly approach to the handling of citizen complaints filed against the city's police department.
The City Council formed the community relations committee in 1988 with the goal of improving relations between police and the public they serve. Among its duties is reviewing the adequacy of the department's investigations of civilian complaints.
Over time, however, the process became so regimented that it took on the appearance of a rubber stamp for the police. Meetings took place at the station, with the potential of intimidating those who felt they might have a beef with police. More troubling, the committee routinely went into closed session to discuss the internal probes.
Last year the council authorized a shake-up of the committee, appointing some new members, including former councilor Reid Burdick, who became chairman. Meetings have since moved to the senior center and the committee has undertaken community outreach efforts. Now the committee appears poised to end the practice of closed-door discussions.
Responding to a request by Mr. Burdick, Attorney Brian K. Estep of the city's Office of Director of Law issued an opinion that discussions about the adequacy of internal investigations of civilian complaints "should be in a public forum and not in executive session."
The committee does not discuss personnel files that would invade personal privacy, Mr. Estep noted. And it does not deal with "records of law enforcement agencies otherwise not available to the public," since police complaints and the investigation results are public records. Such justifications to close the meeting, used in the past, are not appropriate, the attorney found.
A transparent process is the best method to assure public confidence. Chief Margaret Ackley has recognized that in her administration of the police force since becoming chief in June. When it meets at 6:30 tonight, the committee should likewise accept the legal opinion and choose openness.