NORWALK, Conn. – Talk of dangerous traffic conditions, affordable housing and the need to maintain Norwalk’s diversity gave way Tuesday night to concerns about Norwalk Police officers, with the department’s young blood being given a poor review by South Norwalk residents at the latest Mayor’s Night Out.
“We’re hearing this a lot, our young African-American men are being stopped and frisked and our young African-Americans overall are being stopped unfairly,” Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) said at a turning point in the evening’s mood.
The event, held in the community room at Norwalk Police headquarters, attracted about 20 citizens, with four of the department heads present fielding questions. Topics included a “dangerous curb” on Taylor Avenue, the “big buildings” going up on West Avenue and in SoNo, parking and gentrification, and concerns about “stop and frisk” and the way Norwalk Police approach teenagers.
In a first, Mayor Harry Rilling shut down ever-passionate frequent commenter John Mosby, going so far as to ask Deputy Norwalk Police Chief David Wrinn to escort Mosby from the room when he ignored Rilling’s repeated requests to “wrap it up.” That drew complaints later from Bowman and an audience member, and Mosby spoke twice after that, more calmly than the first time.
Marcus Hargrave first broached the police issue, saying that his teenaged son was told he was jay walking, and given the option to get a ticket or be frisked.
“I just don’t understand how your police officers can do that,” he said, before going on to ask why police cruisers don’t have video cameras.
Wrinn said that had been tried to get cameras five years ago, but it was a “major expenditure” and “extremely difficult” to keep up with the technology financially.
“The technology wasn’t there to keep them running without having to put a lot of time and expenditures to actually pull the video, store the video and do things like that. Just the upkeep of damaged cameras, things like that. We found now that the technology has been dramatically improved,” he said.
The department is now testing video cameras that are worn on the body, he said. An officer takes the camera off at the end of his or her shift, and puts the camera into a charger, which downloads the videos, he said.
Mosby, a retired union leader who has recently been speaking at Board of Education meetings, delivered racial complaints similar to those he has been airing in recent months. Blacks are being forced out of Norwalk, he said, beginning with the sentiment of “I am very disappointed the way the community being shut out of here in the city of Norwalk. I am shocked to death.”
He went on to mention Norwalk Housing Authority Deputy Director Candace Mayer’s recent announcement that public housing flat rents are going up dramatically and said, in reference to Norwalk Schools Superintendent Manny Rivera’s announced intention to open a school in South Norwalk, “You want to pack the blacks down here again.”
“Doctor, I want to help you but you all don’t want to listen. .. You ain’t fooling nobody,” Mosby said.
He had been talking for five minutes at that point, his voice growing louder and more passionate. Rilling interrupted.
“Can I ask you to wrap it up? I’d like you to be a little bit more civil and to talk without accusing,” Rilling said.
The mayor kept repeating, “Wrap it up,” as Mosby excitedly said, “You don’t want to hear the truth, Chief. You’ve been ignoring us, too, and running around here. That ain’t what we voted for. Even Mayor Moccia was much better than you are because he would listen a little better. Whether you like it or not and that’s the truth.”
The “Wrap it up” not working, Rilling turned to Wrinn and said “Would you escort him out?”
Mosby stopped talking and Rilling told Wrinn to sit back down.
That prompted comment from Bowman half an hour later.
“I’ve seen just as colorful conversations coming from other individuals and I didn’t see them asked to be escorted out,” she said. “So I just want everyone in this room to look at this because our people are being treated unfairly.”
A recording of the “colorful conversation” is attached below.
Bowman mentioned recently retired police officers, who dealt with her when she was a teenager, and said they would have handled recent situations much better than those wearing the badges in their place. Diversity training is needed, she said.
“We like the new chief, he is a nice guy, but we’ve been telling him we feel there is a problem,” she said. “… There is a marked difference between officers who grew up in Norwalk and those who come from outside of Norwalk. The ones who grew up in Norwalk, they basically grew up with diversity training, but these other ones, we don’t like how they are treating residents of South Norwalk and we are pretty sure it is happening in other districts.”
Rilling said there is a complaint process. Wrinn referred to the recent program of having new officers walk a beat for three weeks before beginning patrols.
A woman, who declined to be identified, stood up.
“I just really came to observe, I came with some other people,” she said. “But what I have observed has been appalling. While Mr. Mosby was speaking I saw you, Mr. Mayor, talking and laughing. … We are all people. What is it we need to know about each other? People are people. Diversity training? For what? If somebody is not doing anything wrong, why are they being stopped? So to me this is 2014, that kind of thing should have ended long ago so yes, I am appalled.”
Martha Dumas asked how many hours new officers are on the foot patrols.
Wrinn said they work their full shift, sometimes at night, sometimes in the day. Also, more experienced officers are told to leave their cars and walk around trouble spots for 15 to 30 minutes.
“I’ve seen some rookies that are kind of rough,” Dumas said. “But my whole take is you tend to be more, I guess, not so offended when someone of their color approach them. When you have a rookie approach you that is not of your color and the way he approaches you, they don’t know what to do. Because right then and there, because they have seen so much happen, even on South Main, they tend to run or they tend to speak and the officer don’t want them to speak.”
There are good youths in Norwalk, she said.
“Maybe just try to have some more friendly officers in some of those areas might also help,” she said.
Sherwood Taylor said the recently retired officers, including Officer Carleton Giles, had the respect of the community.
“I have spoken to other officers who have retired,” he said. “I won’t go into names and they have clearly said that these officers, ‘It’s not the same, Sherwood. It’s not the same as when we were out there. Their temperament is different. The way they handle people.’ They have even said that there’s a lack of communication with the younger guys, within the department, within the building. In some cases they can even see how — imagine them on the streets if they can’t get along with their brothers in blue within the building. So there are some issues and I don’t mean to disrespect anyone or stir up any trouble or anything, but there is a generational. Some of it a matter of these guys are from out of town but some of these guys, I hate to say, they are a hot head.”
Hargrave, who had opened the conversation with the first complaint about police, said his 16-year-old son won’t walk to the movie theater.
“He feels like he’s going to get harassed by the police,” he said.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Wrinn said. He expressed hope that the problem could be worked out in a conversation that had already been planned for later this week.
Rilling said, “Hopefully once we talk to him and talk to you, get a feel for what did go wrong and how we can correct it, he will feel a little more comfortable with coming down and talking to the officers, and so forth.”
The next Mayor’s Night Out will be held in Rowayton, Rilling said. After that, there will be one in Silvermine, and then the process will start over again, he said.
Correction, 6:51 p.m., Hargrove changed to Hargrave