Chief: Racism charges affecting officers' moral
The Connecticut Post
STRATFORD — About 20 minority officers in the town's 102-member Police Department are wary of retaliation from superiors if they speak out about tensions sparked by recent racial incidents, according to leaders in the area minority community.
But Police Chief Michael Imbro and Police Union President Shawn Farmer both strongly deny anyone should feel intimidated, insisting all officers in the department have the freedom to speak publicly.
Both Imbro and Police Capt. Harvey Maxwell, as well as Mayor James R. Miron, however, concede accusations of racism and brutality against the department are having an impact on morale.
"It's hurtful because it's not true, and our officers take great pride in their relationship with the community," said Maxwell.
"I am concerned the perception of these allegations could be impacting morale, particularly minority officers," said Miron. "I have asked the chief to keep a close watch on that and encourage officers to talk about it."
Farmer said he asked minority officers if they wanted to talk to the press about the recent incidents, but none agreed to do so.
"I speak for them anyway and many have indicated to me they are fine, and have no problem with the department's handling of race relations with the community," said Farmer.
The union leader said four of the union's seven-member executive board are minorities.
Several minority police officers declined comment when asked directly about the impact on their jobs by recent accusations of police brutality and racism, or did they want to discuss a planned noontime rally Saturday by local and state leaders of the NAACP at Town Hall.
Others did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
But minority leaders did address the issue, pointing out the nine African-American and 11 Hispanic officers are caught between the sometimes competing dynamics of their responsibilities as a police officer and their lives in the minority community.
"They are truly caught in the cross-hairs and are under a lot of pressure," said former Chamber of Commerce President Stephanie Philips, an African-American who has lived in the town's South End for 26 years and operates a computer-consulting business there.
Philips, also a member of the town's Zoning Board of Appeals and a Democratic Town Committee leader for the 2nd District, last week attended two South End meetings on the racial tensions.
Both were held at the Birdseye Municipal Complex — the first led by Town Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, and leaders of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP in planning the Saturday rally, and the other at which Imbro announced the resumption of a community policing program designed to improve relations in the South End.
Wayne Winston, chairman of communications for the Greater Bridgeport branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said minority officers in Stratford are "certainly being pressured" not to make public comments about racial issues.
"Whenever something like this happens in a town, the minority officers are under the most pressure to keep quiet," said Winston. "If not, their superiors can make life miserable for them."
But Imbro angrily denied there would be retaliation against any officers who speak about the issues publicly.
"That is absolutely not true, and if any officer feels that way he or she should come to my office and tell that to my face so we can discuss it," the chief said.
Racial tensions in recent months were sparked by a March 21 brawl in the South End when O'Neal was arrested along with a teenage girl when a fight erupted between two other girls.
Both O'Neal and 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell, who are black, claimed they were victims of brutality and foul language while being arrested by Officer David Gugliotti, who is white.
Gugliotti was cleared of misconduct following a 60-day internal affairs investigation by the Police Department.
But Mitchell's mother, Marcia Mitchell-Davis, has contacted the FBI and U.S. Justice Department asking for independent, outside probes of the incident.
A spokeswoman for the FBI in New Haven said recently the FBI is still considering the complaint.