Across the nation, there has been evidence of hostility between police and the communities they serve. The city of New Haven is taking new steps to bring its people and its police closer together, with hopes of keeping any tensions from escalating.
Wednesday evening marked the first in a series of public meetings of the Community and Police Relations Task Force, a panel of about twenty citizens and community leaders who have been tasked by Mayor Toni Harp to evaluate the community-based policing efforts in the city. The goal is to build a better relationship between New Haven's men and women in blue and the people they have been sworn to protect.
“We just want to listen to the residents and see what their concerns are and what their perception of the police department," said Dr. Leroy Williams, who chairs the task force alongside Rabbi Eliezer Greer.
"Nationwide there is an epidemic that is blowing up in mini-explosions. We all know about Ferguson, Baltimore," said his co-chair, Greer. "It’s all over the place."
During this initial meeting of the task force, the panel only listened but did not respond to questions and concerns about police department policies and procedures regarding things like use of force.
"You need to tell us what your protocol is in order for us to assess whether or not it’s being effective," said Thomasine Shaw, a New Haven resident who was among a handful of people who asked to have documentation of current police protocol concerning use of force.
The task force will include community concerns in its recommendations for the mayor and the Board of Police Commissioners. Several more public discussions are scheduled to be held in various locations throughout the city during the fall.
The task force will report preliminary findings to Harp by the end of the year. A final report on community-based policing efforts is due in 2016.
"We need to take a look at what we have and see if it’s truly meeting the needs of the community and if we need to make some adjustments, make some adjustments," said Williams.