OLD SAYBROOK – Changes to policies that will affect how the Old Saybrook Police Commission deals with comments, inquiries and complaints from the public regarding the Old Saybrook Police Department were discussed at Monday’s meeting as the commission awaits further clarification of an opinion from town attorney Michael Cronin.
Committee Chair Alfred Wilcox said on Monday that Cronin was reconsidering an opinion he had provided that referred to a proposed change as “illegal.”
The current by-law says that all complaints submitted to the police commission will be turned over to the Old Saybrook Police Department. The revised bylaw would give the commission the ability to address the complaint in a variety of ways, including forwarding it to the police department, contracting an independent investigator or forwarding it to state or federal authorities.
Cronin’s opinion expressed concern that the change would conflict with a police department policy that refers all complaints against the department to Chief Michael Spera. The policy is in accordance with a state law that requires police departments to have a policy on addressing civilian complaints. Cronin said the proposed by-law could potentially create a situation where a complaint could be forwarded to an outside entity, such as the state or an independent investigator, without the police department having any knowledge of the complaint.
Wilcox said that he wanted to delay a vote on whether to accept the new by-law while Cronin reconsidered his opinion.
“I readily confess that the reason for the holdup is, I didn’t like what I saw,” said Wilcox.
Cronin told CT Examiner that he agreed to review his opinion after hearing Wilcox’s concerns, although he said he did not agree he would change it. Cronin said he planned to have a response by the April 25 police commission meeting.
Wilcox told CT Examiner that he disagreed with Cronin’s interpretation because he felt that the legislature’s intent when it required police departments to adopt a policy around handling civilian complaints was not to block civilians from making complaints to other entities such as police commissions or the state police — it was to break down barriers to civilians filing complaints with a department.
Wilcox also said there were certain situations, such as if a department was accused of corruption, where a complaint should be turned over to outside authorities rather than to the police department itself.
“If you turn it over to the department to handle, they’re going to be able to cover their tracks. So you want to be able to turn it over to the U.S. Attorney or to the state police and let them decide how they want to conduct an investigation,” said Wilcox. “The police commission ought to be entitled to exercise judgment about the nature of each complaint and what it does with it.”
After further discussion, the commission also decided to wait to vote on changes to three other commission by-laws which address public comment at police commission meetings, how correspondence should be handled, and the responsibilities of commissioners to handle inquiries.
Wilcox said at the meeting that the changes to those by-laws were minor, and that he had updated drafts of the by-laws to incorporate some of Cronin’s language.
Republican commissioners said at the meeting that they felt Cronin’s opinion letter should be posted online for the public to view. Wilcox said he did not post the letter because it was not in its final form.
Also at the meeting, discussion came up regarding a potential method for evaluating Spera. Wilcox said that the Democratic Party caucus had been working on a template for evaluation which could then be presented to the full commission. Republican commissioners and Spera both objected to the Democratic commissioners discussing the evaluation outside of regular meetings.
Republican Commissioner Carl Von Dassel suggested that the commission form a subcommittee, and Democrat Commissioner Jill Notar-Francesco suggested that the group meet as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the issue.
Spera also gave an update on the status of a pending Internal Affairs investigation into the actions of patrolman Tyler Schulz, who was arrested on a charge of second-degree breach of peace in relation to a bar fight in Essex in early March. Spera said that the investigation was in process, and that he would inform the commission if he decided to discipline Schulz for a period longer than 10 days.
Spera said he did not know when the investigation would be completed.
“I don’t put timelines on serious matters like this,” he said.