The only point of agreement
in a three-decades long consent decree obligating Hartford
to fix its dysfunctional police department is that plaintiffs
and defendants are currently in "adversarial
The contentious nature of the dealings means that a special
master appointed by federal Judge Ellen Bree Burns will have
to work things out starting next week. That may not bode well
for Hartford when you consider that the city of Bridgeport last
year was slapped with a $945,000 fine for being in contempt of
a federal court order.
The fine was in connection with a 25-year-old lawsuit alleging
rampant discrimination in Bridgeport's police department. Sound
familiar? The Cintron v. Vaughn decree Hartford is under came
after a spate of police shootings of people of color in the late
1960s. The decree affirmed that new practices were needed to
recruit and promote officers who represented the racial makeup
of a diverse city, and that more cohesive standards of police
conduct were necessary.
Subsequent amendments, meetings and letters kept the ball rolling.
In December, lawyer Joseph Moniz filed a contempt of court order
against the city. He says Hartford is flouting Burns' edict and
is stonewalling efforts to promote minority hiring in the HPD,
improve supervision of officers and investigate citizen complaints
against police. The city disagrees, saying that when it presents
its case to lawyer Richard Bieder, the special master appointed
by Burns to oversee the matter, it will be understood that Hartford
is making strides in the areas of contention.
So why hasn't the city communicated those efforts to the plaintiffs?
Because of personalities and egos, of course. And because the
city has indeed been dragging things out, spurred now only by
a contempt motion.
Both sides, naturally, deny that personality clashes have contributed
to the inertia. But the citizens group pushing reforms includes
an array of persistent city advocates, critics and gadflies,
including Ramon Arroyo, a political operative once fired from
his job at city hall; Alyssa Peterson; former Mayor Nick Carbone;
North End matriarch Trude Mero; Carmen Rodriguez; and some religious
They're politically savvy, astute and know what buttons to push
to get the city's attention. They can work your last nerve with
their pontificating and grandstanding, but in this case, they're
right to get in the city's grille about accountability for the
actions of its officers.
Add up the legal complaints against Hartford officers, from
citizens and fellow cops alike, and you're talking millions of
dollars in settlements and attorney fees.
The city and plaintiffs had agreed to develop a computer system
that tracks complaints against cops. City Corporation Counsel
John Rose says that has started. The plaintiffs say that's news
An affirmative action guideline for the police department was
supposed to be presented. The plaintiffs say they're waiting.
Rose says Hartford is in the midst of revising a new citywide
The two sides previously agreed that the internal affairs department
would be staffed by one commander and eight investigators. It
According to Rose, who says the decree is outdated, budget issues
and practicality have been at play. But he insists that the backlog
of cases hamstringing the department has been significantly reduced.
Police officers have been fired and demoted for bad behavior
in recent years, and there have been several African American
police chiefs - and a Latino was recently promoted to captain
- since the 1973 decree. So, yeah, you can call that progress.
But the HPD remains a department with deep-rooted problems.
Former detective Nicholas Russo was awarded close to $600,000
in damages last week from a federal jury that believed he was
fired in 1997 by the department because he blew the whistle on
Last summer, a white police officer accused a white lieutenant
of ordering his charges to stop people of color downtown who
were not dressed in a suit.
In 2003, an officer was fired after it was determined that he
lied about being in danger when he shot a suspect in a chase.
Six years ago, a white police officer fatally shot in the back
a fleeing black teenager who was the suspect in an assault. Subsequent
investigations cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. This week
that officer, Robert Allan, will be promoted to sergeant. Oh
So, while the legal posturing continues about the decree, the
reason it was ordered is as relevant as ever.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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