Discipline for Police Fails Amid Secrecy, Union Clout

Chris Powell


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Connecticut’s most important journalism last week was the study produced by Bill Cummings of the Hearst newspapers about the weakness and secrecy in discipline of misconduct by municipal police officers in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

While police are far more sinned against than sinning, sensational cases of misconduct, however unrepresentative, heighten the need for accountability, especially since police departments are in charge of policing themselves, at least until a lawsuit is brought in court.

Perhaps what was most inexcusable in what the Hearst report found was the refusal of many police departments to disclose disciplinary records in a timely way under Connecticut’s freedom-of-information law.

But in government in Connecticut the lack of discipline is hardly peculiar to police. State government is notorious for being unable to fire anyone for almost anything, since union contracts and the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration ensure that most discipline is trivial. In municipal government most employees are teachers, and once they achieve tenure under state law, dismissing one can prove prohibitively expensive no matter the justification.

Since the public is generally uninformed and indifferent, most elected officials in Connecticut become tools of the government employee unions. Indeed, the General Assembly and Governor Lamont have just enacted legislation to let the state employee unions interfere with even more of ordinary management, inviting the unions into management’s own orientation meetings with new hires. The public interest only loses from that.

Until police brutality recently became a national issue, Connecticut state government even accepted a state police union contract that lets troopers block disclosure of complaints against them. A new law forbids such contract provisions but it may not be enforceable until the next contract takes effect. State university professors enjoy a similar contract provision.

Mandatory publicity may be the only way of improving discipline not just for police officers but for all government employees in Connecticut. The law could require state and municipal agencies to post on their internet sites all complaints and disciplinary records involving their employees. While some complaints will be false or exaggerated, as long as government agencies are their own investigators and can conceal even valid complaints, the public will have little protection.

Of course there is no chance of such a reform until the public is even half as mobilized as the unions are. But now that Black people are realizing that government secrecy and capitulation to the unions facilitates abuse, maybe some white people can catch on.

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CHOO-CHOO WHO?: If they had some ham, cheese, bread, and maybe a little mustard, Governor Lamont and state Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti could have a ham sandwich. And, they said at a press conference last week at the railroad station in Stratford, they could shave 10 minutes off a Metro-North train ride from New Haven to Grand Central Station in New York City in a year or so and as much as 25 minutes in 14 years if they had a gift of as much as $10 billion from the federal government — and if, of course, anyone still wanted to go.

Lately most New York traffic has been in the other direction — that is, outbound from the city. That may change as the virus epidemic recedes and New York’s disastrous mayor, Bill DeBlasio, is replaced. But most of what constituted the railroad traffic before the epidemic — Connecticut residents spending as much as four hours a day commuting to and from work in the city — may not return now that working from home is popular.

No matter, perhaps, since Connecticut U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, where money is no longer any object, attended the press conference in Stratford and promised to help get those billions for the railroad.

Amid such enthusiasm and pipe dream smoke it seemed impolite to ask whether hastening commutes to Grand Central by 25 minutes 14 years from now is more important than, say, repairing the state’s deficient roads and bridges, the fund for which is running dry, the governor and legislature unable to agree on methods of replenishing it. So nobody asked.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.