New London - In a move he said was made to avoid any appearance of voter intimidation, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said he requested a police vehicle be moved away from its very visible location outside the high school polling place on election night.
The move was criticized by the police union this week, another example of the friction between the mayor and union leadership.
"The constant bashing of police officers by this mayor is incessant," according to a post-election update posted by the union's political director Chuck Flynn on the union's website.
"His latest episode was accusing officers on election night of voter intimidation against minorities who could potentially fear a visible police presence in the high school parking despite the fact the police department hired an officer overtime assignment for polling station visibility," the posting reads.
Finizio said he's aware of political tactics used in the past in which police officers were used to intimidate minority voters. He cited past cases in New Jersey where the strategy was used by Republicans.
Finizio said he was not accusing police of any impropriety, only that "visibility is a factor we consider to ensure we don't have an appearance of intimidation ... something that could detract from voter turnout."
Police typically have some presence around Election Day polling places to ensure public safety and manage traffic, he said. Prior to Election Day, however, Finizio said he spoke with Chief Margaret Ackley about keeping police presence discreet where possible.
"I want to make sure everyone going to the polls feels comfortable," Finizio said.
At the high school, prior to the end of voting, Finizio said he received word that a patrol vehicle was parked near the entrance of the school, which also happens to be situated in a voting district with a high minority population. He said he called the chief and asked that the vehicle be moved.
"There was no problem, but I felt this was potentially in violation of what I discussed earlier with the chief," he said. "I had concerns and the problem was addressed."
Local Union President Officer Todd Lynch said Finizio's actions serve to hinder, and not heal, race relations.
"The mayor is throwing a racist accusation at the police department. How is a police car intimidating minorities?" Lynch said. "He's using race when there was no problem at all."
Lynch said he thought it was problematic to have a mayor, who was campaigning for his party, directing police action on the night of the elections.
"Our superiors should direct police what the police should do, not the mayor who is involved in the election," Lynch said. "We have a chief. We have a deputy chief and command staff. The mayor should not be directing police operations."