Editorial: Officials too quick to dismiss police commission idea
The saga of a Westport resident’s court battle with police regarding a hash brown mistaken for a cellphone will likely go down as one of the year’s most unusual stories. It has received national attention by the Washington Post and was recently a talking point on “Late Night” with host and comedian Seth Meyers.
But putting the humor factor aside, Jason Stiber did what is not commonly seen in cases brought against police — win.
After two trials and presenting phone records as evidence, Stiber was found not guilty of distracted driving.
Now he’s petitioning to create a board to handle police complaints and hiring, but opinions are mixed about whether the town needs one, as grievances are relatively low.
Some town officials have been too quick to dismiss the benefits of a police commission.
First Selectman Jim Marpe and Police Chief Foti Koskinas say they don’t believe a police commission is necessary, but Koskinas admitted the department isn’t immune to excessive force issues or complaints in the future.
If an incident arose, the department claims it can independently review it internally. But that’s where accountability becomes a slippery slope.
While Westport police certainly have a system of oversight, how can we truly be sure a citizen’s concern isn’t swept under the rug, especially when the investigative body is the subject of complaint in the first place?
Opposition to creating a civilian review board is surprising for a town with such a high level of civic engagement from residents. Town leaders have a responsibility ensure residents have every option available to voice their concerns.
Other Fairfield County cities and towns have police commissions or review boards as well, including Darien, New Canaan, Fairfield, Norwalk and Bridgeport.
Westport used to have over 70 officers, but in the past few years that number has decreased to 64. In that same time, the town’s population has increased and the department now has close to 30,000 calls a year.
With fewer officers and a growing population, it’s reasonable to think there is more room for mistakes.
At the end of the day, we should trust that officers strive to uphold the law and do the right thing. However, we also can’t assume every department or person is perfect and that biases don’t exist.
Greater transparency through the establishment of a commission can help further build positive community relations, and should not so easily be dismissed.