Westport is considering a civilian review board after RTM rejected last proposal

File photo of a Westport Police car.

File photo of a Westport Police car.

Contributed photo /

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting is again considering creating a civilian review board to oversee the police department after rejecting a proposed ordinance to do that last year.

Another resident is now bringing a similar ordinance before the RTM. While presenting his proposal this week, lead petitioner, Tom Prince, said the board is necessary and Westport is behind the curve in police oversight.

Prince said the Connecticut Bar Association recommends every town with a police department have either a civilian review board or commission. He said unlike the vast majority of towns in Fairfield County, “Westport has fallen behind” and has neither.

“This is a problem that has motivated our citizen ring,” Prince said.

Prince told the RTM that it’s common sense that when someone complains about a lawyer’s malpractice, that complaint goes to an independent bar association to determine discipline. He also said when you complain about a doctor’s malpractice, you don’t complain to their colleagues at the doctors’ office.

However in Westport, he said, police have self review, which allows them to determine their own facts and own discipline.

“Objectivity and independence is needed in reviewing such claims,” Prince said.

The town currently has a civilian review panel, which was created in 2020 following protests for further police accountability after the murder of George Floyd. Panel members are picked by the first selectman.

The initial board included TEAM Westport Chair Harold Bailey as well as former selectwomen Jennifer Tooker and Melissa Kane. The new board consists of Bailey and selectwomen Andrea Moore and Candice Savin.

Tooker is currently planning to expand the three member board to five, having the other two seats appointed by the RTM.

Prince said the problem with this board is that “its rules change,” calling the temporary panel “a Band-Aid approach and mere window dressing.”

“It is an ineffective system with no teeth,” he added. “It served as a way for the former selectman to appear as if he was doing something in a year of protest.”

Under the original proposal for a civilian review board, the police would have handled the majority of investigations into complaints, while the review board would conduct the interviews and take the sworn testimony of the complainant, the accused police officer and their respective witnesses.

That effort was spearheaded by lead petitioner Jason Stiber, who made headlines back in 2018 when he was given a ticket for distracted driving.

That ordinance was defeated last year 32-1 with one abstention. However, most RTM members said they were in favor of having greater oversight on the police department, but there were too many issues with the ordinance as it was written.

In this new ordinance, the board will be less politicized, have more expertise and more time to address the complaint process, Stiber said. Board members cannot hold other elected offices in town and board members will be chosen for their relevant qualities and expertise. This ordinance will also eliminate the subpoena power provision, a controversial topic during the last discussion of the ordinance.

No one else commented on the proposal which was only presented at Tuesday’s meeting as a first reading. RTM members, town officials and members of the public will be able to speak address it during the public hearing in the coming weeks.

serenity.bishop@hearstmediact.com