First Selectman Jim Marpe Announces Formation of Civilian Review Panel
In light of recent events around the country, the elected leadership of the Town of Westport and the Westport public safety departments recognize the need to continue to foster and maintain the public’s trust in its personnel. Our first responders, Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), have always been committed to providing the highest levels of service with utmost professionalism, transparency and accountability. Today’s climate, however, demands a reassessment of goals, an even higher degree of commitment, and a clear way to incorporate and engage the members of the Westport community that the public safety departments serve.
With this in mind, First Selectman Jim Marpe is pleased to announce the formation of a Civilian Review Panel (CRP) that will work closely with the members of the Police, Fire and EMS Departments to assist in the hiring process of new employees and to review and provide feedback in the civilian complaint process.
Mr. Marpe stated, “I have appointed Selectwomen Jennifer Tooker and Melissa Kane, and TEAM Westport* Chair Harold Bailey to the CRP. I have confidence that these engaged individuals represent our community. They will seriously consider all the items before them to achieve an increasingly effective, transparent and equitable process in hiring public safety personnel and, when necessary, investigating civilian complaints.”
“It is important to continuously evaluate opportunities to improve transparency and accountability to our community,” said Jen Tooker. “The CRP is an operational change that will support that effort.”
Melissa Kane said, “The creation of the CRP is an important step in the direction of accountability and transparency for our town’s public safety departments and personnel, with an eye toward making sure our practices don’t inadvertently perpetuate systemic racism and promote inequity.
She added, “I look forward to serving on the panel, and appreciate the openness with which our public safety leadership has welcomed the opportunity to review our public safety procedures.”
Harold Bailey stated, “Current events nationwide are focused in great part on addressing systemic racial inequities across all sectors of American life with a particular focus on policing inequities regarding Black and Brown citizens. As such, our imperative as nation, state or town should be to review the statutes, processes and programs of all our major systems including public safety and policing toward the end of transforming them and their integrated whole in an antiracist direction to eliminate inequities. The CRP should be an immediate, significant first step toward the comprehensive equity review/revision process for Westport public safety which should ultimately be conducted.”
The concept of civilian participation has been utilized by the Police Department in the last several hiring cycles. Like their predecessors in this process, the CRP will participate in the interview selection of both new hires and lateral transfer applicants. Although the final decision on hiring will remain with the Chiefs of the departments, the CRP will offer measurable feedback on the selection of candidates through a direct line of communication with both the Chiefs and command staff, as well as offering scored feedback during the interview process.
Another recently highlighted issue is the need for transparency in civilian complaints against public safety personnel. In addition to its involvement with the hiring process, the CRP will review and provide feedback on civilian complaints. The panel will work collaboratively with the public safety departments’ Professional Standards officers by reviewing and offering feedback throughout the process, from receipt of civilian complaints, through the investigation phase and, if warranted, the imposition of discipline. The inclusion of the CRP maintains the integrity of the current process by insuring thorough investigation and proper attention to every received complaint. To allow for unhindered operations and as a reflection of trust, the Chiefs of the departments retain responsibility for the ultimate decisions related to the severity of any imposed discipline.
Police Chief Foti Koskinas said, “My goal upon assuming the role of Chief of Police was to continue to build on the foundation of public trust carefully fostered between this department and our residents. Now, at a time when police departments across the country are looking introspectively at ways to better serve our communities, I believe that this is an important step in continuing to maintain complete transparency, in preserving public trust and in reassuring our residents that effective policing is truly a collaborative effort.”
Fire Chief Rob Yost added, “The Westport Fire Department continues to strive to diversify in its hiring of recruit firefighters and, to that end, welcomes the assistance from the CRP. I would also welcome their assistance with any questions of conduct or complaints of fire personnel to insure the continued high level of public trust and support of the Fire Department.”
*“TEAM” stands for “Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism.” TEAM Westport is an official committee of the Town of Westport with volunteer members appointed by the First Selectman. To undertake its activities, TEAM Westport operates Education, Governance, Marketing, Outreach and Program Committees.