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Norwalk Council authorizes ‘menacing’ police vehicles

It’s not possible to buy two-tone police cruisers anymore, Deputy Norwalk Police Chief Susan Zecca said Tuesday. The all-black version sneaks up on people, Common Council member Ernie Dumas (D-District B) said.

Updated Aug. 15, photo added; 4:20 p.m.: Video added.

A Norwalk Police vehicle on Quintard Street in 2015.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk citizens who object to black police SUVs will have to voice their concerns to the Police Commission.

The Common Council on Tuesday authorized the purchase and “emergency fit up” of 12 Ford pursuit-rated hybrid police SUVs in a 9-3-0 vote, with a note of controversy as opponents objected to the darkness of the vehicles: entirely black with gold lettering, or black with reflective black lettering. Mayor Harry Rilling, former Norwalk Police Chief, said the appearance of the vehicles is the Police Commission’s purview.

“If this body wanted cars that weren’t black, they would have to vote no to give them cars until they are presented with a different color?” Council member Chris Yerinides (D-District A) asked, after 12 minutes of Council discussion.

“You’re here to approve whether you want to get new police cars or not,” Rilling replied. “The money’s been allocated and the police cars need to be ordered. … You don’t usually get involved in the lettering and what the vehicle say and the kinds of lights they’re going to be put on them.”

Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) led the opposition.

“Everyone knows that black vehicles are the least safe, because they don’t stand out with the background of roadway and scenery,” Corsello said as the discussion began. “We don’t want our officers in harm’s way or to have our vehicles in greater danger. In addition, I’ve gotten a lot of input from constituents because they do see black vehicles around, and they find that they present somewhat of a menacing image.”

He asked: If the idea is to make police presence known, then why not have highly visible colors?

The department found that black and white police vehicles “do not hold up,” and spent considerable time last year studying options, Deputy Norwalk Police Chief Susan Zecca said. Manufacturers don’t make two-tone police vehicles anymore so the Norwalk Police Department was “wrapping” vehicles in white, and “those white wraps were not holding up and they were looking dingy and dirty and yellowed and just not professional very quickly.”

“We use the gold lettering to stand out so that it so that it is very visible that we’re a police car, and also you have a light bar and a push bar on the front that makes it much more identifiable as a police vehicle,” Zecca said.

It’s police department practice to ride with the light bars on during the darkest hours, Rilling said.

Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) mentioned that some police vehicles have black lettering.

Zecca called those “subdued” and said “they’re meant to be canine cars,” because those officers to take the vehicles and the dog home and the car will sit in the officer’s driveway.

They’re barely visible, Hempstead said, with Zecca responding that the letters are reflective.

The police department has switched to SUVs because Crown Victorias are no longer available, and expects to buy 10 a year, Zecca said. Lt. David O’Connor said 25 SUVs have been bought since 2014 and the police department is “sort of doing a little catch up,” because cars have exceeded their operational life.

The cars “are not driven like your family car, they’re driven hard miles, they run constantly, in all kinds of weather. When they’re running, sometimes it’s exposed to driving fast stopping fast. It really beats them up, it takes a lot of their life away,” O’Connor said.

“We’re in a tough position where I think we should be making our vehicles a little more easier for people to see rather than more difficult,” Yerinides said.

“I have not heard of issues where people can’t see us, when needed. And people are noticing us out there and more actively enforcing,” Zecca said.

“I also want to add that these cars should be replaced because it was coming down to the safety of the police officers driving them,” Council member George Tsiranides (D-District D) said.

“Just to be clear, it’s my understanding that lighter color cars are safer cars for those driving them,” Corsello said.

Council member Ernie Dumas (D-District B), Corsello and Yerinides voted against the $407,000 purchase of the Ford Utility Interceptors and their $183,000 fit up.

Afterwards, Dumas said there had been a long discussion about this during Monday’s Democratic caucus meeting and he spoke about an SUV that comes to his neighborhood, that people can’t see it until it’s right upon them.

There are only three or four vehicles out of the 12 that will be that dark, he said.

“The point of it is, it’s bad for the police and it’s bad for the person. Because people don’t know who this guy is jumping out of the car,” Dumas said. “…I haven’t got anything against the police. But those cars…pulling up on folks like this and you can just barely see who it is.”

23 comments

Mitch Adis August 14, 2019 at 5:12 am

Are you kidding me? I don’t care what color the car is. If there are red and blue flashing lights then that’s the clue it a police car! Stop pretending you’re concerned with the officers safety. Tell the truth and say you’re concerned you will offend someone.

M. Murray August 14, 2019 at 7:54 am

Voting against the police cars because you don’t like the color? You can’t see them with all those flashing lights? They don’t know who is jumping out of the car with all those flashing red and blue lights with uniforms on or jackets that say police? Or maybe these are the Narcotics guys that don’t have the flashing lights on and we need the drug dealers they are going after to be able to see the police cars coming from much further away to give them a fair chance and a head start. Ant Mr. Corsello, is something menacing just because it is black??

Lisa Brinton August 14, 2019 at 8:34 am

Of all the increased density, overdevelopment, tax credits, quality of life, lack of ordinance enforcement and financial issues this city faces, this is what the common council voices objection to? Really?

Kevin Kane August 14, 2019 at 9:27 am

Agreed 100% Lisa. Only on Planet Norwalk.
Add Cop Car Color Controversy as another example reiterating the type of
bat pooh crazy mindset at Town Hall that confirms my wise decision to move out of Norwalk.

Al Bore August 14, 2019 at 9:39 am

The new police cars in all black are awesome, it is amazing what people here complain about. The future police cars will have a smiley face on the hood, are you people for real? Lisa I echo your comments thank you and I hope you bring Norwalk back to becoming a great city once again. Two more years of status quo and it’s over.

Debora Goldstein August 14, 2019 at 10:30 am

Also on the agenda was an engineering contract relating to the East Ave widening/lowering” project. Did it go through on consent without discussion?

EnoPride August 14, 2019 at 11:29 am

Now our council members are police car designers? Amazing. I wish I saw police cars patrolling East Norwalk to even know what color and design they are! They are like unicorns around here.

East Norwalk is like the Wild West… Tractor trailer and commercial trucks terrorizing smaller cars, jumping over sidewalks and cutting through gas stations to avoid being queued at the lights, cars speeding from all directions toward East Avenue, sometimes jumping into oncoming lanes. When the police are away, the motorists will play!

The other day, I witnessed a man buzzing around on an ATV in the Saint Thomas church parking lot with a young girl who looked to be under 8 – neither had helmets on. He was using private property as his own personal amusement park! I told the guy I was going to call him in, and I did. What message does this type of behavior send to residents and visitors? The message that there is no enforcement on a regular basis. Why else would this guy feel comfortable enough to break the law in broad daylight? Because he knew the chances of getting caught were low to zero. I’m sure it was not his first rodeo!

Some enforcement, please?! Forget about color and design. Please send at least three of those menacing black vehicles on over to East Norwalk to be visible on a routine weekly basis!

james gallacher August 14, 2019 at 12:12 pm

they must have been reading my mind. The black on black cars don’t offer any contrast or visibility at all and they look like a para-military force. I was just thinking the other day when one of these black cars cut off about 5 cars on East Ave (without their lights on BTW) that the cars need to be more visible. It might cut down on dings and accidents. At the very least they should have a significant amount of reflective tape/paint which they currently don’t have.

Obviously there are other things in the city that are more pressing, but the reason the council has to talk about this at all is because our current and former police chiefs don’t seem to understand the importance of visibility and made bad choices. Bright cars would help at job sites, it would help people in high density areas find a police officer when they need one, and would help create a presence.

here’s a link:
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Norwalk-cop-car.jpg

high tint, low contrast lettering: this looks like a repurposed drug dealers SUV, not a police car.

John Miller August 14, 2019 at 12:30 pm

Maybe the three no votes can hire a consultant on Meadow Street to perform a nationwide junk yard search for used Yugos which could be restored, painted any color under the sun, and equipped with vintage “bubble gum” police lights on top to get peoples attention.

With all the issues facing the city right now, the Common Council is spending time debating the color of police cruisers? As John McEnroe would say: “You have got to be kidding!!!”

Drew Ablank August 14, 2019 at 12:39 pm

These things are so bad-_ss I wanna race one every time I see one.
On a serious note am anxiously awaiting the mayors unofficial spokesman to offer up his defense here (against Lisa of course). Reminding everyone how stupid this really is.

Ken Williams August 14, 2019 at 3:28 pm

I 2nd Lisa’s spot-on observation . . and add, this is why more and more people are losing faith that our ‘fearless leaders” in gubmint can actually do their job instead of creating more problems then they solve . . . I guess you really can’t fix stupid . . . and James . . . “they look like a para-military force” . . . spent all day thinking of that did you ? I bet you also suffer from Hoplophobia . . . a political neologism coined as a pejorative to describe an “irrational aversion to weapons.”

Matt Lechner August 14, 2019 at 4:24 pm

You can always count on the Norwalk Police to do the wrong thing, and this is consistent with that, unfortunately. The tragic “death by police” of Eric Garner was mainly effectuated by poorly identifiable police, mostly out of uniform, who them pushed the envelope by having one officer shouting at Mr. Garner to put his hands up, while the other one was jabbing him in the middle of the chest to draw Mr. Garner’s hands in via an involuntary defensive response. I’m sure the Norwalk Police will do something similar. Why do they need to look like some kind of “secret police” force ? It is just going to encourage them to be even worse as a police force than they already are – which is pretty bad already. They are one nasty police force, totally disdainful of the law. Bullies. And now they are selecting vehicles to further and facilitate their bullying. Disgusting.

April G. August 14, 2019 at 4:31 pm

All Black cars? Argument for them being less visible and possibly putting officers in harms way seems entirely valid. How would they look on a stormy or foggy day? Isn’t it better for emergencies and the community that police cars be more visible than less visible?
Gold lettering? Sounds kind of tacky, honestly.
Menacing? This isn’t a Marvel movie.

Jon J. Velez August 14, 2019 at 4:42 pm

Buy them for crying out loud. Dealers in Ward B do not like the new look…why? They cant tell if its a buyer or undercover? The individuals who don’t approve…deal with it!!! SMH!

james gallacher August 14, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Ken, aka keyboard warrior – you have zero reason to make this personal. there’s a practical reason to paint them a brighter color, which i already outlined.

Michael McGuire August 14, 2019 at 6:15 pm

Astounding – the three dissenting votes are the same guy’s that rubber stamped the POKO deal in its latest highly questionable status – as in the financing from CHFA is highly questionable given the on-going law suites and $800,000 per unit price tag.

In this instance they go to the mat and pushback on something that is about nothing more than “feelings”.

Yet when provided with clear data from knowledgeable sources that the underwriting of the POKO/McClutchey deal is on very shaky ground and should require, at minimum, a thorough due diligence to protect the Norwalk Taxpayer’s, they just roll over.

Is there any hope for Norwalk?

Patrick Cooper August 14, 2019 at 7:11 pm

The universal playbook of municipal bureaucracy. On full display.

“You’re here to approve whether you want to get new police cars or not,” Rilling replied. “The money’s been allocated and the police cars need to be ordered. …

For those who are not privy – here is how this works. You MUST spend the money – if you want the money in NEXT YEARS budget. Need’s got nothing to do with it. Spend it or lose it.

Harry could care less about the argument relative to design – all nice but seriously missing the point. Harry was pissed because – damn it – we NEED to spend this money. So we have it next year. Regardless.

That’s how it works, folks.

Bryan Meek August 14, 2019 at 8:11 pm

While we are debating colors, shouldn’t they also have bike racks on them? Then we could see the bike patrol on Belden Ave.

Curious Voter August 15, 2019 at 7:52 pm

You can definitely see the black police cars while you’re driving. It would be foolish for them to have highly visible cars while patrolling for criminals. It sounds as if they have different cars for different purposes. Besides I’m sure they did their homework to choose what’s best. Just leave it up to the commissioners.

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