This is an open letter to Mayor Harry Rilling and Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik.
The Race and Social Justice Coalition at St. Paul’s, a diverse group of over 60 church and community members, has been learning about issues of race and justice for the past four years. Through research and examination of books, discussions, films and much more we have grown into a coalition which is concerned about human rights and issues of social justice, within the state of Connecticut and particularly in the city of Norwalk where two- thirds of Coalition members live. While our efforts to date have focused on housing and education, recent events in our country, a Norwalk town hall meeting on police accountability and the incident involving Senator Bob Duff last summer, have made us add police accountability to our agenda and triggered this letter. The review of the Duff incident, made internally and then approved by Mayor Rilling, a former police chief, was opaque to many Norwalk citizens and raised serious concerns within our group about the process of appeal and fairness in decision making.
We wish to express support for any steps the police department has taken recently towards the fair and sensitive policing of all Norwalk residents. Having had members of the Race and Social Justice Coalition participate in the protests last summer, we know that the Norwalk police department did an admirable job protecting all citizens and allowing for peaceful protest. Further, we applaud any ongoing efforts of anti-bias training or sensitization on issues of gender and race.
We feel strongly, however, that more needs to be done to address the issue of accountability where there are disputes between the police and citizens. We therefore respectfully submit a request that a citizen review board for the police department be established in Norwalk. We are convinced that such a board would not only increase public confidence in community policing but would also support the whole department in their efforts to project the openness and transparency necessary in today’s climate. We request that the police department and the city government create a review board that includes non-police-connected citizens. With this request, we are asking for only one of the recommendations in the recently passed state bill on police accountability. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence within communities of color that such a board is warranted.
We wish to enhance the review system and build citizen confidence in the police, not undermine the authority of the police chief or department.
Norwalk deserves a police department that serves all its citizens equitably and justly, not only by internal standards within the police department, but also by external standards from its citizens. Creating an appropriate review board will only serve to build much needed confidence in the police, particularly among minority and vulnerable communities. We hope that our request will meet with serious consideration from you both.
We look forward to your timely response.
The Race and Social Justice Coalition at St. Paul’s