Unnecessary and Counterproductive
I’m responding to the Dec. 10, 2020 article “Old Saybrook Police Commission Codifies Correspondence and Citizen Complaint Process.” That article points out that after I was publicly reprimanded by the Republican members of the commission for conducting “individual investigations,” those same members wrote a ban on such investigations into the Police Commission bylaws.
Your readers should know that there is no law prohibiting a commissioner from looking into anything relating to the police department. All the law requires is that if a commissioner has formed a prejudgment that an officer in the department should be disciplined or fired, that commissioner should not then participate as judge and jury in a commission proceeding to decide that very question. Thus, if my inquiries lead me to a firm conviction that an officer did something wrong, I should bring it to the attention of the full commission and recuse myself from participating in any hearing, or be disqualified by my fellow commissioners.
Therefore, the first legal issue is one of degree: At what point would my conduct appear to a reasonable observer to have carried me to a prejudgment about the guilt or innocence of the officer who is the subject of a complaint? The second legal issue is one of remedy: If I have gone too far in my inquiries, I should be disqualified from sitting in judgment.
Neither of these legal issues requires a hard and fast rule that a commissioner should do nothing that might be characterized as an “independent investigation.” That is why I voted against that bylaw change. Not only is it legally unnecessary, it is counterproductive as a matter of policy. The Police Commission exists to provide civilian oversight for the Police Department. How can commissioners oversee if they can’t even look?
Alfred “Chub” Wilcox