Bridgeport seeks state police accreditation

BRIDGEPORT – Before last year’s nationwide protests for police reform prompted elected officials to scramble to review and improve law enforcement in Connecticut’s largest city and statewide, the force of Bridgeport was trying to improve policies and procedures.

The formal term for this work is “accreditation” and Bridgeport is poised to become one of the few urban centers in Connecticut to achieve it.

“It’s important for the same reason … that when you go to college, you want to go to an accredited university that practices ‘best practices’ (and) doesn’t operate on a whim, making policies by reaction. rather than research, “said Professor John DeCarlo, director of the Masters of Criminal Justice program at the University of New Haven.” Accreditation provides policing with an organizational structure, a transferable set of best practices and a level of accountability that simply does not exist in an unaccredited police service.

Bridgeport is in the final stages of a four-year effort – and something much talked about before that – to be accredited by the state’s Police Officer Training and Standards Council. The process is managed by Lieutenant Manuel Cotto.

The Council, or POST, conducted an on-site assessment at the end of June to determine its final recommendation to its board of directors.

POST has three levels of accreditation. Bridgeport is currently seeking the first liability certification, involving 127 standards. POST also delivers professional (79 standards) and general management (116 standards) certifications.

“It’s kind of like ‘building blocks’,” DeCarlo explained of the three-step process. “Instead of doing it all at once … it allows them (police departments) to build on the accreditation process and gain experience and learn as you go.

A POST spokesperson did not return requests for comment.

If Bridgeport is successful, the city would become the 38th Connecticut Municipal Department to receive some form of POST accreditation, joining Norwalk and Danbury, both of which are at level three. Accreditation lasts only a few years and must be continually renewed.

That would be good news for a force which in recent years has repeatedly made headlines for scandals involving excessive force and other examples of officers behaving badly; internal disputes over promotions and allegations of racism; and the recent arrest and conviction of its then boss, Armando Perez, on federal charges of cheating in 2018 to secure the post of top police officer.

“The Bridgeport Police Department has always provided quality policing services to the community,” the city said in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media. “Participating in the accreditation process is a commitment that Bridgeport is actively working to improve these services and relationships. “

The statement highlighted benefits ranging from “modernization” and “increased community support” to monetary savings – greater eligibility for government grants and “reduced liability risk (and) stronger liability defense”.

“Although it may seem like a long process, it was quite quick for an agency our size to reach the first goal,” the city added.

Not fast enough for local police reform advocates like Gemeem Davis, a leader of civic group Bridgeport Generation Now, who has been pushing for a force overhaul since the shooting death of 15-year-old Jayson Negron by an officer debutant in May who was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.

“It’s very frustrating that it has taken so long,” Davis said this week. ” It has to be done. “

This is how the state legislature felt about most of the state policing service. The Police Reform Bill that the General Assembly passed in 2020 no longer makes accreditation voluntary.

“Bridgeport at least thought about it and got the ball rolling ahead of the passage of the Police Accountability Legislature,” said State Representative Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, who was one of the architects of the statewide law.

Stafstrom said the general excuse offered for not pursuing the designation is “that there is manpower, resources and a financial cost to do so.

“So while it was nice to have certain departments to point out, it wasn’t as high on the priority list for many as it should have been,” Stafstrom said.

“It’s a big job, to be quite frank,” agreed DeCarlo, especially, he added, for large law enforcement organizations like Bridgeport.

Departments can also receive national accreditation. DeCarlo said that years ago Connecticut set up its own process to make it more affordable.

Stafstrom said that initially legislative reforms in 2020 required departments to follow national law enforcement standards.

“But there has been a push to allow state accreditation to be sufficient as well. Some have argued that state accreditation is as strong if not stronger, ”Stafstrom said. “And it’s also cheaper. I think before the requirement comes into effect, the law will be updated to say that … one or the other is sufficient. “

Bridgeport has hired a consultant, the Daigle Law Group of Plantsville, which promotes itself as “one of the country’s leading law firms specializing in the development of effective and constitutional policing practices.” As new policies, which are finally put online, were drafted, they required approval from the city police commission, and then were to be distributed to core staff.

Anna Cruz, a member of the Bridgeport Police Commission, cited the fact that the group typically only meets once a month as one of the reasons accreditation has been a long process.

Cruz hopes that if POST grants the city accreditation, it will improve the image of the local department.

“It can only help,” she said, but noted for the average resident: “Not everyone knows what accreditation means.”

DeCarlo admitted that the police had done their job for years without it, which may lead some observers to wonder why this is necessary.

“Do we need accreditation to arrest people? No, “he said.” Do we need accreditation to… keep improving? Yes. “

Following Perez’s arrest last September, a coalition of religious leaders, including Pastor Anthony Bennett of Mount Aery Baptist Church, renewed their previous public call for new police leadership and “systematic reforms.” which included accreditation.

“I remember when we started asking how many hours they (officers) get training on de-escalation, racial profiling, all those things,” Bennett recalled this week. “And literally the reaction we got is that… the instructor will not be sharing their program with us.

“I think, especially in cities in Connecticut, the liability is very illusory,” Bennett said. “The accreditation gives it a level of responsibility that is public.

But, Bennett added, he won’t be satisfied until the appointment is announced by POST.

“I am a man of faith,” he said. “But I became more and more skeptical until a process was completed.”

About Dianne Stinson

Check Also

“We are afraid every day”: Florida schools are troubled by attacks on teachers

Still images of videos of fighting are seen at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *