NEW LONDON – Back on the job after being cleared of misconduct allegations by one of his own men, police Chief Brian Wright says his only focus is moving the department, and himself, past the turbulence that marked his roller-coaster initial weeks as the city’s first Black chief.
Saying he was “ecstatic” to be back on duty, Wright spoke to CT Examiner on Monday while still settling back into his office after a six-week absence.
“It was difficult, and there was a lot of emotion involved in it,” Wright said of being the subject of a sexual-harassment and retaliation complaint that led to him being put on administrative leave just three months after being sworn in as chief. “But I can’t let my focus or my energy go towards that. To give it attention and focus doesn’t benefit anyone or anything. So forward I go – and we go.”
Wright’s positive take on the matter reflects his personality and approach to policing and running a department that for months has been rife with internal conflicts and allegations of on-the-job gender and racial discrimination and harassment between officers and supervisors.
The Oct. 6 complaint against Wright that led to his suspension that same day was filed by a supervisor who was subsequently demoted from lieutenant to sergeant for his pattern of conduct toward a female detective who had accused him of gender-bias and sexual harassment.
No specifics of the complaint against Wright have been made public, and on Monday he declined to discuss it in detail.
But he did say, as at least one other officer has said publicly, that some officers might not be comfortable with having a person in color as their boss.
“I would love to believe that there’s no issue,” he said. “But there’s always going to be bias – we all have biases. To be able to acknowledge that is important – that’s the first step. Is it an uncomfortable conversation? Yes, but it’s a conversation that needs to be had. We’re not where we should be but were going to get there.”
Asked if that bias also applies to the way some officers interact with the public, Wright said “there’s always room for improvement.”
“To sit here and say we don’t need improvement would be a fallacy,” he said. “I think everyone has to make more effort and by working together that’s how we do it.”
That philosophy, he said, is particularly important as the city’s minority population continues to grow, including those who may have experienced negative interactions with police in other areas.
“When you work in as diverse a community as New London you have to understand that,” he said. “You have to be open to that perspective. Your ability to be personable and to engage and interact with people is your greatest resource.”
Wright, 52, grew up in Bridgeport, where he said many of his friends’ parents worked in law enforcement.
“It was always a positive thing,” he recalled. “I didn’t have any adverse interactions with police that gave me a negative perspective. I guess I was fortunate or lucky or whatever you want to call it.”
Before he was appointed chief, Wright’s 27 years on the force saw him rise through the ranks as the department’s second-ever Black sergeant and first Black lieutenant and then Captain.
And while he is proud of those milestones, he’d prefer that they really didn’t matter that much, or at all.
“I look forward to the day when that’s not such a novel thing,” he said. “But it provides me with a benefit of perspective that maybe my counterparts may not have. And to a young officer it says: That could be me.”
But to those in the department who may not be ready to accept him as chief, or his expectations of fairness, accountability and transparency, Wright has a very clear message.
“At the end of the day I believe everyone here has a job to do and we have one mission,” he said. “If a situation presents where someone is no longer willing to proceed forward then they have options.”
Wright stressed the fact that his being the subject of an internal investigation and put on leave shows that the department’s method of handling such complaints works – whether it involves him or another officer.
“You have to trust in the process and get through it,” he said. “It shows that I’m not above anyone here so I have to be able to accept it when the process involves me.”